Avatar photo

By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Yes, Russia’s Lady R was packing fire power… but ‘weapons were inbound’

Insiders claim that the final inquiry report on the Lady R saga indicates that SA did not send weapons to Russia.

President Cyril Ramaphosa received the final investigation report of the Lady R on Friday afternoon for his consideration.

Despite the controversial decision that the report would be “for the president’s eyes only” due to “sensitive aspects of national security and classified information” it would contain, presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said Ramaphosa would decide whether to make certain parts public.

An independent three-member panel, led by retired Judge Phineas Mojapelo, was tasked on 9 May by Ramaphosa to investigate allegations that South Africa sent weapons to Russia via the Russian cargo vessel that docked at the Simon’s Town Naval Base on 9 December 2022.

ALSO READ: Lady R: Ramaphosa’s arms deal panel accused of lacking military expert

Alleged main findings of the Lady R report

According to City Press, informed sources in the security cluster shared what they claim to be the main findings of the report with the online news outlet:

  • The Lady R did not load a South African shipment of weapons or ammunition intended for Russia when it docked at the naval base.
  • The ship did load food and other supplies for its return trip to Russia.
  • The primary cargo the ship was carrying, was an old arms order that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had placed with Russia before the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The assignment consisted largely of lighter weapons and ammunition.
  • The weapons and ammunition were acquired for use by the SANDF’s special forces in its military intervention in northern Mozambique.
  • The delivery had become urgent due to a chronic lack of ammunition, especially on the part of the Mozambican army which, together with South African and other soldiers from the Southern African Development Community region, is fighting extremist groups.
  • The decision to equip some of the special forces with Russian weapons – presumably AK-47s, according to City Press – was based on the standardisation of ammunition with that of the Mozambicans.

Confirmation of Thandi Modise’s defence?

The report findings seemingly confirm Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise’s previous statements in which she repeatedly denied that South African arms, ammunition or other defence equipment were loaded on the Lady R.

The minister also stuck to her guns that the offloaded cargo was delivered in terms of an old order which could not be delivered due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.

ALSO READ: There was no export of anything via Lady R, Modise reiterates

US ambassador makes waves for Lady R

A diplomatic storm erupted in May after fiery allegations by US Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, that the Lady R had loaded arms from South Africa onto the US-sanctioned Russian vessel.

Following a meeting with International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, Bridgety issued an apology on 12 May for “any misimpressions left by my public remarks”.

ALSO READ: ‘US ambassador ought to be expelled’, says Sisulu as Dirco insists there’s no evidence

Lady R still a smoking gun?

The secretive docking (in the middle of the night during load shedding) of the Lady R in December remains a smoking gun.

According to the insider sources quoted by City Press, the panel did not determine why the ship turned off its onboard identification systems before it entered the naval base after sunset.

That aspect was not part of the panel’s mandate, the sources said.

Of all weapons, why would SANDF’s special forces be equipped with AK-47s?