Like it or not, some info on Lady R will remain a secret: Ramaphosa tells MPs

12 October 2023 - 19:09
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President Cyril Ramaphosa appeared before the National Council of Provinces on Thursday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa appeared before the National Council of Provinces on Thursday.
Image: GCIS.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said the contents of the shipment carried on the Lady R vessel were kept secret so as to not compromise the work or the safety of South Africa’s security forces. 

“I have no intention of compromising this, under no circumstances,” said Ramaphosa.

The DA’s Frederik Badenhorst had asked the president if he deliberately misled the nation concerning the “highly irregular handling of ammunition as controlled items” and whether he was misled by the “irrational and false findings by the panel”. 

Furthermore, he wanted to know whether such controlled items were loaded and/or offloaded by clandestine parties as responded to in an oral parliamentary question by the minister of defence and military veterans. 

Ramaphosa said: “The independent panel that I appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the docking of the Lady R vessel in Simon's Town in December 2022 was led by a respected, reputable, retired judge and two prominent, respected legal minds.”

Ramaphosa said he had full confidence in the contents of the report, adding, “By the way, as they commenced their work they asked for anyone with information to come forward and present [it].”

He said the panel had received information from a number of people.

“I have no reason whatsoever to believe the findings of the panel were irrational. In fact I believe the findings were completely rational.”

The panel made no findings of involvement by clandestine parties or illegal transactions and no evidence has been presented to contradict the panel’s findings. 

“The contents of the shipment are kept secret so as to not compromise the work or the safety of our security forces. I have no intention of compromising this, under no circumstances.”

Ramaphosa said Section 28 of the National Conventional Arms Control Act makes it clear that information on the quantity of items is shared with parliament on a confidential basis and nothing in the act requires disclosure on the intended use of the controlled items. 

“In fact, the act expressly states that information concerning the technical specification of the controlled items may be omitted from a report contemplated in this section to protect military and commercial secrets.”

He said the work of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is critical in ensuring that SA abides by its international obligations in relation to the transfer and trade in controlled items and it “will continue to do this critical work as provided for in its founding legislation and the relevant UN conventions”.

He said the government would continue to respect the requirements of the law and its responsibility to ensure the security of the nation.

Badenhorst asked Ramaphosa if the “inconvenient truth” was that the government wished to hide whatever pertained to the NCACC, chaired by minister Mondli Gungubele.

He said the report said the ministers had failed to keep Ramaphosa abreast of matters of national interest at the time. “This is typical of what South Africans have come to expect of the ANC, the flouting of our laws.”

He asked what mechanisms had been put in place to ensure that the committee does its work without fear or favour. 

Ramaphosa conceded that there were certain things that were not done accordingly and, to that end, “we have embarked on a process as suggested by the judge that we need to put right”.

“No law was transgressed and processes that should have been embarked upon should have been done.” 

“This is the advantage of having inquiries because they come up with suggestions of things that could have been done better in the form of recommendations. Nothing is perfect in life and one is never perfect. We always strive to improve — in this case too.”

Ramaphosa said the inquiry found that no law had been broken and that certain administrative and tactical issues needed to be improved. 

 “Communication and administrative issues are being attended to.”

“Since we received the report, we have received nothing but really positive comments all round — and globally as well.”

He said his counterparts were pleased with the manner in which he dealt with the allegations that sought “to tarnish” South Africa’s reputation and hurt the economy. 

“We took steps to have this matter investigated and many people who are careful watchers of our country said at a diplomatic level that they couldn't have done it better themselves.”

Ramaphosa defended his decision to appoint the inquiry. 

“I am the president and I appointed them.”

He said the report contained the truth as reported to the panel and he had decided to keep out of the public the issues that could put in jeopardy the country’s national security. 

“My duty is to ensure that the security forces protect the people of this country with the means that they have,” Ramaphosa said.

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