Despite the executive summary of the report on the Investigative Panel into the Russian Lady R Cargo Ship debunking claims that South Africa supplied Russia with arms, an international relations expert says perceptions matter, “perhaps far more than certainties in various situations”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday night released the independent panel inquiry’s report into the Russian vessel Lady R that docked in Simon’s Town.
He had appointed Judge Phineas Mojapelo to lead the inquiry investigating US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety’s claims that weapons had been loaded onto the ship.
After causing a diplomatic stand-off between the US and SA, Brigety is said to have apologised to International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor.
The remarks wreaked havoc with the rand, which nearly traded at R20/$1 at the time.
“Despite some rumours that some equipment or arms were loaded on the Lady R, the panel found no evidence to substantiate those claims,” the panel found.
According to the report, the panel established that the goods that were delivered by Lady R in Simonstown were equipment for the SANDF, which it had requested, had been ordered by Armscor and waited for since 2018.
The equipment was ordered from a company in the UAE and was long overdue.
“The manufacturing, packaging and delivery of the equipment was delayed among others, by the outbreaks of Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“Neither the SANDF, Armscor or AB Logistics had chosen the Lady R as a vehicle for delivery, nor did they have control over the process, in terms of the relevant contractual arrangements. South Africa in fact had no control over the selection of the vessel.
“Although the Lady R was under US sanctions (which was only discovered by Armscor and AB Logistics in mid-October last year when the ship was already on its way), those sanctions had not been endorsed by the UN and were therefore not binding on South Africa.
The shipping agents at Ngqura/Port Elizabeth, where the ship was at first intended to dock, were unwilling and refused to service the ship as a result of the US sanctions.
To rescue the situation, the SANDF, in collaboration with Armscor and the supplier decided and directed the ship to dock at Simon’s Town, where the goods/equipment were offloaded.”
The report notes that as part of the standard practice in relation to this kind of equipment, the goods were offloaded at night, under cover of darkness.
Stellenbosch University Emeritus Professor of Military Science, Francois Vrey said: “The government is doing a lot of footwork, there’s been a lot of delays, it’s either they are not sure what was really offloaded or government put its foot in it by not being open right from the beginning now they’re trying to do risk control/reputational risk control.
Or it could be a question of whose doing those transactions of keeping the government out of the picture.”
Director of specialist foreign policy consultancy at Surgetower Associates, Siseko Maposa said the reputational damage from the perceptions of the saga had not been restored by the report and South Africa’s “non-aligned” stance might have taken a knock.
“The US... may press South Africa to renew its unwavering loyalty, commitment, and support to the West and western ideals. But in the wake of SA’s increased collaborations with the East, this may prove difficult to ascertain and ultimately may contribute to worsening SA-US diplomatic relations,” he said.