WATCH | 'SA did not supply weapons to Russia aboard the Lady R': Ramaphosa

03 September 2023 - 21:20
By Nivashni Nair

There is no truth to the damaging allegations that South Africa illegally exported arms to Russia when the vessel Lady R docked in Simon’s Town, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Sunday.

Ramaphosa shared limited details of the findings of a panel that investigated the controversial incident.

“From its investigation, the panel found no evidence that any cargo of weapons was loaded for export onto the ship Lady R. The panel found there was no evidence to support the claim that the ship transported weapons from SA destined to Russia,” said Ramaphosa. 

“The panel established that the ship docked in SA to deliver equipment that had been ordered for the SA National Defence Force in 2018 by Armscor, our country’s arms procurement company. In terms of the contract for the supply of the arms, neither Armscor nor the SANDF had any control whatsoever as to the means that the supplier of the ordered equipment would transport them to SA,” he added.

He said in its report, the panel outlined the circumstances that led to the docking of the ship in Simon’s Town and the nature of the cargo supplied. 

Ramaphosa said the panel visited the naval base in Simon’s Town and obtained evidence under oath from about 50 people in every relevant component of government.  

“Over 100 documents were submitted to the panel for examination. 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 of those invited either failed to do so or said they had no independent knowledge of the relevant facts,” he said.

The Russian vessel Lady R, anchored at the Simon’s Town naval base on December 6 2022.
Image: JACO MARAIS/GALLO IMAGES The Russian vessel Lady R, anchored at the Simon’s Town naval base on December 6 2022.

Ramaphosa said in recent months, statements from several quarters used these allegations to call into questions SA’s position on the Russia and Ukraine conflict. 

“The allegations levelled against our country had a most damaging effect on our currency, our economy and our standing in the world. In fact, it tarnished our image as a country,” he said.

The panel did not find any evidence of criminal conduct by anybody involved. "However, the panel made findings and recommendations with respect to the functioning of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee. It also made recommendations about the improvement of communication between ministers and government officials, including the adequacy of the relevant administrative processes."

Given the fact that the evidence given to the panel was classified and that revealing details about the equipment offloaded could jeopardise the work and safety of SA soldiers deployed on the continent, Ramaphosa said he had decided not to release the full report.

"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.

"To reveal the details of the equipment offloaded would compromise important military operations and put our soldiers’ lives at risk. 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," he said.

Ramaphosa said when all matters were considered, none of the allegations about the supply of weapons to Russia were true.

"I have noted the panel’s findings and recommendations with respect to the efficiency and efficacy of the relevant administrative and maritime transport processes and have directed that an implementation plan be developed to address these. The panel has given me an executive summary of the report, which I have decided to release publicly.

"Both of the matters on which I have reported this evening — the 15th Brics Summit and the investigation into the Russian ship that docked at Simon's Town — are relevant to the principles that inform our relations with the rest of the world.

"Our policy of non-alignment and our efforts to build friendly relations with all countries is driven by a commitment to a world that is peaceful and stable. That is why we will continue to pursue a foreign policy that advances the interests of our country and the progress of our people, and that promotes human rights, peace, justice and equal development across the world," he said.