South Africa’s Investigation of Visit of Russia’s Lady R Sent to Ramaphosa

Russian roro supply ship
Lady R has made frequent trips through the Bosphorus raising belief it is supporting the war effort in Ukraine (Twitter)

Published Aug 4, 2023 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

The independent report commission by the South African government to investigate the December 2022 visit of a Russian supply ship to the country’s Simon’s Town naval base was due to be delivered today, August 4, to the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa. Pressure had been placed on the government by the opposition party and the United States to investigate the allegations the vessel covertly during the middle of the night loaded armaments or possibly munitions for Russia in violation of the international sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.

Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya confirmed the three-member panel that was headed by a retired judge has completed its investigations and is ready to present its report to Ramaphosa, who has said he will review it and decide whether to make the report public. The panel was originally given a six-week deadline to uncover the facts about the Russian vessel’s presence in the country’s waters which would have meant the report was due on July 18. They received a brief extension, which critics highlight meant it was not presented until after the president attended a Russia-Africa Summit in late July where he held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pressure was placed on Ramaphosa in May when U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety emphatically stated that the U.S. believed the sanctioned vessel had been involved in an illicit transfer of arms. “We are confident that weapons were loaded on that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion,” Ambassador Brigety said during an interview in which he called for the investigation.

The panel to investigate the docking of Lady R was given a mandate that included establishing the circumstances that led to the docking of the ship and the alleged loading of cargo and its subsequent departure from Simon’s Town in the Western Cape. The panel was also to establish the persons who were aware of the ship’s arrival, and, if any, the contents to be off-loaded or loaded, the departure and destination of the cargo. In its report, the panel was also required to include recommendations on actions to be taken against those responsible, if it establishes that breaches occurred.

The presidential spokesperson said that Ramaphosa planned to review the document as soon as his schedule permits now that he is back from the summit. Following the president’s review, he will decide on the actions to be followed and on the aspects of the report that will be made public said Magwenya.

Revelations that the South African government intends to filter the report and only make public part of its findings are likely to ignite further accusations of a cover-up. The U.S. has called for action while the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance has also been pushing for transparency and accountability in the investigation process.

“What we want from this is what we have always believed,” said Kobus Marais, a spokesperson for the opposition. “If nothing was wrong, as they've claimed, then why not make it public? If you've got nothing to fear, why not be honest and transparent to the public,” he said last month, adding that the opposition party had made an application to access the findings of the investigation. They have also said that they are prepared to take legal action if the government refuses to make the report public.