Over two weeks ago, South African President and Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Cyril Ramaphosa said there would be a commission of inquiry into the Lady R’s docking at Naval Base (NB) Simon’s Town in December.
To date, little further information has come to light but Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise’s budget vote debate in Parliament yesterday (Tuesday, 23 May) brought another affirmation that nothing was loaded.
“I will reiterate what I said: We put fokol on that ship. Nothing,” Modise said in response to questions from outspoken Democratic Alliance shadow defence minister Kobus Marais, emphasising that “fokol means nothing”.
Marais used his National Assembly (NA) address allocation time in the defence budget debate to again raise Lady R and her seemingly clandestine call on the SA Navy (SAN) fleet home port.
Addressing Modise, he noted it was time to deal with the elephant in the room – “the irrational Russian love affair”.
Calling the sanctioned Russian cargo vessel’s arrival in Simon’s Town a major national security breach, he wanted Ramaphosa’s defence minister to tell South Africa who authorised the docking and why.
“Minister you and the President should know the facts and what transpired. If everything was above board, why not be transparent and go on record? The longer you stay mum the more the damage to our international image, investments, trade interests most notably AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) and our economic prosperity.”
He asked who authorised the apparent unrestricted offloading and reloading cargo during the midnight hours of 6-8 December. “Something was loaded onto the Lady R. Was it ammunition? If not, release the vessel’s cargo manifest to confirm this.”
African Christian Democratic Party member Steve Swart also asked what was loaded on or off the ship during the midnight hours. “If it was innocent, release the cargo manifest. Ongoing silence on this issue threatens very important trade relations with the West,” he said.
Modise defenced South Africa’s relationship with Russia, saying “the relationship, which is between the Russian Army and the South African army, predates me coming into this [department], predates the relationship, and the ordering of whatever it was on that ship that was delivered, the Lady R spectacle.
“Now, maybe we should be advised that we should jettison every relationship that we have, and maybe you must tell us, honourable members, whether the 40 members of the defence secretariat and military who are on their way, in the next few weeks to the US, must be stopped, because then you are going to tell us we are also sucking up to the US. Because you see we handle relations on a country by country, on a defence to defence [basis] and therefore I think it would be very myopic of us to every time to be told you cannot breath until we tell you so. Because that would stifle any interaction.
“You ridiculed the Mosi [II exercise between the South African, Russian and Chinese navies in February]. By the way the name Mosi was given by the South Africans to Mosi I, Mosi II. Mosi was an exercise that we said actually enabled us and our Navy.
“I welcomed the president’s calling for an inquiry into the matter of Lady R. I think I would still be able to say, I will reiterate what I said, that [the] defence force, if it has lied to me, that something was put in, that will be a matter. All the documentation from the time the order was made in 2018, until the time of the offloading, all the documentation of SARS, will be made available to that inquiry, so that we can at least be allowed to think and proceed with other business of defence.”
Following the debate in Parliament, Marais said Modise missed an opportunity to dispel the rumours and allegations made by American ambassador Reuben Brigety that South Africa loaded arms/ammunition onto the Lady R.
“We demand that the Minister reveals the manifest of the cargo. Until she does not, we will see it as an admission that South Africa indeed supplied arms and/or ammunition to Russia,” Marais stated.
“The DA urges the Minister to take immediate action and provide full disclosure regarding the cargo on the Lady R. There are just too many rumours going around and the people of South Africa deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials, especially when it concerns matters of national security. We will continue to hold Minister Modise and the government accountable until the truth is revealed and appropriate action is taken to ensure the security and sovereignty of our great nation.”