President Ramaphosa addressed allegations involving the Russian ship Lady R which docked at Simonstown Naval Base in 2022.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday to put an end to months of speculation surrounding the docking of a Russian ship, Lady R.
The vessel docked at the Simonstown Naval Base on 9 December 2022. Following the public outcry, Ramaphosa appointed an independent panel led by retired Judge Phineas Mojapelo.
The docking had become the subject of controversy over recent months, with allegations surfacing that South Africa was supplying weapons to Russia amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
Ramaphosa addresses Lady R allegations
On Sunday, Ramaphosa began his speech by highlighting the damage done by “these allegations which called in question SA’s commitment to its position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict”.
“The allegations levelled against our country had a damaging effect on our currency, economy and our standing in the world.”
Ramaphosa said the panel “thoroughly investigated” the circumstances surrounding Lady R’s docking.
He said none of the allegations concerning the supply of weapons to Russia had any merit.
The three-member panel – which also includes Adv Leah Gcabashe SC and Mr Enver Surty – visited the Simonstown Naval Base.
“I wish to thank the panel for the considerable amount of work it undertook in a relatively short period of time.”
Investigation at naval base
Ramaphosa said the panel interviewed nearly 50 government officials under oath, and reviewed more than 100 documents related to the incident.
“A number of entities and persons [who] had publicly claimed to have information on this matter were invited to make submissions to the panel. Many either failed to do so or said they had no independent knowledge of the relevant facts.”
As part of their investigation, the panel offered suggestions on how to improve administrative processes and enhance communication between ministers and government officials.
Gcabashe was previously involved with the State Capture Commission and has sat as an acting judge in High Courts in the past.
Surty previously served as the deputy minister of basic education from 2009 until 2019, and is a lawyer by education.
War supplies? No evidence found
After an exhaustive review, the panel found no evidence to suggest that South Africa had loaded weapons onto Lady R for export to Russia, Ramaphosa said.
Furthermore, the panel confirmed that all relevant permits for the importation of equipment delivered by the ship had been properly obtained.
Moreover, the panel found no evidence of criminal conduct by any persons involved in the docking or offloading of the ship.
The panel confirmed that all relevant permits had been obtained for the importation of the equipment delivered by the ship; no permit was issued for the exportation of arms, the president said.
Ramaphosa explained; “The panel established that [The Lady R] docked at Simonstown to deliver equipment that had been ordered for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2018 by Armscor, the country’s arms procurement company.
“In terms of the contract for the supply of the arms, neither Armscor nor the SANDF had any control over the means through which the supplier of the ordered equipment would transport them to South Africa”.
Furthermore, Ramaphosa said SA “has clear laws that regulate the issuing of permits regarding the importation and exportation of conventional arms”.
Lady R report won’t be released
Ramaphosa said the full findings of the report will remain classified to protect national security interests.
“In deciding not to release the report, I have taken account of the laws that both mandate openness and transparency and require that certain information that may be prejudicial to the defence and security of the Republic be kept classified and confidential.
Ramaphosa said revealing the details of the report could compromise national security and endanger the lives of South African soldiers deployed in various operations across the continent.
“Under these circumstances, when lives would be at risk due to the revelation of the type of equipment that is utilised by our armed forces, the need for confidentiality is both necessary and justified.”
Executive summary to follow
However, “an executive summary” will be made available to the public on Monday, 4 September.
Ramaphosa assured the nation that South Africa’s foreign policy would continue to prioritise peace, justice, and equal development across the world.
“When all matters are considered, none of the allegations made about the supply of weapons to Russia have been proven to be true, and none of the persons who made these allegations could provide any evidence to support the claims.”
During the same address, Ramaphosa also shared key outcomes from the 15th Brics Summit, including proposed United Nations reforms and expanded bloc membership.