Lady R report is truthful, rational, Ramaphosa tells NCOP – but invokes national security on details
The official report into the Lady R debacle was ‘truthful’ and showed no laws were transgressed, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the National Council of Provinces, taking the national security line on making detailed disclosures about the equipment offloaded.
‘Those issues that deal with national security, I have decided to keep away from public scrutiny… It has to do with the equipment that is used by our security forces…
“I am not about to reveal the things they use to defend the people of South Africa so that they become vulnerable, and the people of South Africa become vulnerable,” President Ramaphosa told legislators.
“Take it or leave it. That is the reality.”
That response came alongside a reiteration of truthfulness in response to opposition questions on the sanctioned Russian Lady R debacle.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA struggles to consign Lady R to the archives, insists won’t demand Brigety recall or apology
The official report found US Ambassador Reuben Brigety’s claim that weapons were loaded on board was not sustained, according to the five-page executive summary that was released in early September.
The Lady R vessel docked in Simon’s Town in December 2022 to offload equipment ordered for the military in 2018 that was delayed by Covid lockdowns and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ramaphosa told the NCOP legislators that National Conventional Arms Control Committee legislation and national security allowed for details of the intended use of the equipment not to be disclosed, to protect military and commercial secrets.
Of course, the law doesn’t expressly say it cannot be disclosed.
While the characterisation of the official report as truthful came in response to a question from the Freedom Front Plus’s Stephanus du Toit, the affirmation of the report’s rationality was in response to DA delegate Rikus Badenhorst’s original question.
The scripted response to the original question had rolled off Ramaphosa’s tongue:
“(The panel) was led by a respected, reputable, retired judge and two prominent, respected legal minds. The extent of the work undertaken and the information the panel sought and obtained and analysed gives me full confidence in the contents of their report…
“I have no reason whatsoever [to believe] that the findings of the panel were irrational. In fact, I believe they were completely rational; as one went through the report, I could find no irrationality. The panel made no findings of involvement of clandestine parties or illegal transactions…”
That Ramaphosa remained on message shows his ability to remain on an even keel, even in rough waters.
He was helped by sweetheart questions from the ANC.
“Since the release of the report, we have received really positive comments and may I say, globally as well… It has been well received.”
Badenhorst – whose Monopoly reference of “pass, go and collect 200 of whatever items were on the board” failed to land with the President – got the last follow-up question. This concerned the executive summary statement that the vessel and those assisting it had contravened several provisions relating to commercial vessels docking, as well as those relating to the tax authority.
Ramaphosa also had an answer to that.
“What that refers to are the protocols and practices that should have been done in a particular way. No laws were contravened. Those are administrative matters and technical matters that we are going to attend to. That’s the reference in the report.”
Acknowledging “administrative mishaps and missteps” – mainly about reports that should have been written and landed on his desk – Ramaphosa added, “I’m rather pleased the judge has highlighted that because it will improve things…”
The President was less reluctant to talk about matters of security regarding the construction mafia, raised by DA NCOP delegate Tim Brauteseth.
The SA Police Service has established 20 economic infrastructure task teams countrywide with 946 members, including detectives, the Hawks and crime intelligence, with equipment such as vehicles, cellphones, notebooks and radios; R20-million was allocated in the 2022/23 financial year – it is not specified in that year’s SAPS annual report and audited financial – and an additional R17-million for the 2023/24 financial year.
Given the importance his administration puts on numbers, Ramaphosa rattled them off – 4,000 arrests for damage to essential and critical infrastructure between June 2022 and June this year, “significant quantities” of copper cable and rail tracks recovered, over 3,000 arrests for illegal mining, and more than 70 arrests for extortion at construction sites.
“The sabotage of our infrastructure and our economy continues to pose a great threat to the country’s development,” said Ramaphosa, adding that with cooperation with Eskom and Transnet, among entities, and the private sector, “We are making progress in combating these crimes.”
Brauteseth pointed out the presidential number of 70 arrests for construction extortion was at odds with Public Works Minister Sihle Zikalala’s claim of 200 arrests, and added, “The truth will fall somewhere in between.” DM