If ‘Lady R’ is not guilty, then SA must expel the US Ambassador

Cape Town 15/5/2023 Ambassador Reuben Brigety

Cape Town 15/5/2023 Ambassador Reuben Brigety

Published Aug 13, 2023


MINISTER in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshaveni this week confirmed that President Cyril Ramaphosa is currently paging through a much-awaited report that probed wild claims that South Africa had supplied arms to Russia “for use in the Ukraine conflict”.

The sensational claims were made by the US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety through typically undiplomatic means that plunged bilateral relations between Washington and Pretoria to their lowest in a long time.

The US top envoy to SA said the Russian vessel berthed in Simon’s Town harbour in the Western Cape last December was loaded with weapons in contravention of the US-led sanctions against Moscow.

The implications were clear and stark – if proven true SA would most likely be hit with economic sanctions by the US, EU and NATO countries who are at war with Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

The inevitable international isolation of the country would further be a price to pay, in case of its guilt.

So serious were the allegations that they made international headlines and knocked down the value of the Rand instantly.

Amb Brigety had made the claims – dismissed as wild and unfounded within the government circles – through a rare public address to the media and he swore that his claims were so truthful he could bet his life on them.

Under immense pressure, President Ramaphosa appointed former Supreme Court of Appeal judge Phineas Mojapelo to lead an independent commission to investigate the US ambassador’s claims.

And now, amidst heightened public interest, Minister Ntshaveni says the report was not even discussed during this week’s Cabinet meeting as it is meant for the President’s eyes only.

Minister Ntshaveni told the media: “The President has received the report. He will go through the report and apply his mind. The report is meant for the President and not for the Cabinet.”

Additionally, responding to an IOL inquiry over when the report would be made public, Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya replied: “It’s not going to be made public.”

Magwenya elaborated: “The President may decide to issue certain parts (to the public).” He said this much was explained right at the beginning when Judge Mojapelo and his fellow panel members were announced.

Now, with due respect, keeping the report for the President’s sole eyes is the part that I want to take umbrage against. Methinks the Presidency – and I have a lot of respect for – misread the public mood and interest when they keep the Mojapelo findings away from the tax-payers’ awareness, access and therefore knowledge.

One of the fundamental pillars enshrined in our Constitutional democracy is the ethos of open society and transparency particularly in our dealings with the citizens.

Ordinarily, the electorate may not bother our rulers much during their time in public office. However, I want to contend that our rulers owe it in large measure to their oath of office to display a degree of respect to the level of intellect of the voters.

To keep the public in the dark about a matter so grave is downright discourteous, and uncouth. It resembles – probably unintentionally – the dichotomy between government and the people.

The unfortunate handling of the Mojapelo report thus far reveals rather the sad distance between the rulers and the ruled. This wide gulf is a dangerous phenomenon.

It breeds public mistrust and contempt. In my book, general disdain for public office bearers is a recipe social upheaval. This is so unwanted, and undesirable, in our country at this juncture.

We have way too many – dare I say a litany of problems of our own making to contend with. Inequality, ubiquitous unemployment, homelessness, wanton poverty and marauding crime are some of the challenges in our national in-tray.

As a country, therefore, the last thing we needed was a megaphone diplomatic mischief-making of the US ambassador to exacerbate our sorry state of affairs. Unless, of course, if Judge Mojapelo might have found credence in his claims, which is highly doubtful.

The leak from the report, so far, claims that only food parcels were seen loaded into the Lady R vessel. Again, this adds to the mountain of reasons as to why the generally trusted office of the President should elect to play open cards with the population that normally does not demand too much.

But let’s get back to Ambassador Brigety: He is a highly esteemed envoy, and the country he represents in SA is arguably the most strategic in international affairs due to its power and position as the world’s biggest economy with unmatched hegemony.

Indeed, in geopolitics when the US coughs, the rest of the world catches the cold! When Amb Brigety lambasted our country, we all trembled collectively in fear and trepidation of the dire repercussions that lay in store for our ailing economy, and our fledgling democracy.

SA has steadfastly maintained that its stance in the Ukraine conflict is non-aligned. The Ramaphosa administration, therefore, owes it to the local and international stakeholders to come clean on whether it supplied arms to Russia, or US envoy “got his knickers in a twist”, as the English are wont to say.

Inter alia, it is incumbent upon our government to lay bare what Judge Mojapelo found insofar as Amb Brigety’s jittering credibility is concerned. Did he lie or not, that is the question that the nation, and the world, want answered.

Yes, the President has every right to take satisfactory time to peruse the contents of the vital report. But the true about Lady R and her activities on our shores remains a matter of great public interest.

For the uninitiated, Magwenya is a seasoned media and public relations guru. I sincerely hope that he would advise the President appropriately, except of course, the reality is that only President Ramaphosa holds the prerogative on the matter.

The Lady R debacle was not the first instance that Amb Brigety had put our country into disrepute. Indeed, we all know. Records show that he had previously undermined SA, his kind and generous host country.

In my book, Amb Brigety has all but become a law unto himself. Remember when he issued a dubious “security alert”, claiming an imminent terrorist attack in our country’s financial Mecca, Sandton?

The alert was issued without any sense of decorum and respect to the SA government, a host government that the US embassy mischievously kept in the dark about the validity and veracity of its “intelligence” report. For the record, the alert turned to be false.

Imagine if it was not the US, but any other country’s top envoy behaving in such undiplomatic manner? I am certain all hell would have broken loose. But, seemingly, not where the US is concerned.

If the leaks from the Judge Mojapelo report are to be believed, my view is that Pretoria need to review continued leadership of the US embassy by the controversial Amb Brigety.

He comes across like a maverick. He is a like a wrecking ball to our national security and stability. Amb Brigety need to be reminded, as is the case with all the other foreign envoys, that he serves in SA at the behest of President Ramaphosa, who retains the right to accept or reject his credentials.

I am making my argument here against a diplomat I and many of my fellow citizens believe he is guilty of gross manipulation of facts and plain lies.

His Lady R claims were made at a time when Washington was at its unhappiest with SA’s neutral stance in the Ukraine war. But that does not excuse the load of baloney Amb Brigety uttered about our weapons supply to Moscow, and by implication our indirect involvement in the Ukraine war.

Amb Brigety will excuse my reiteration of my previous call: He has earned the right to be sent back home to Washington. He has proven that he is no good to our national peace and harmony.

He has proven without any shadow of doubt – not once – that he is a law unto himself. He has undermined our country’s sovereignty, and in international relations, that is a cardinal sin.

He cannot, and must not be allowed to purposefully - and with apparent impunity - run roughshod over his polite hosts. That is simply unacceptable. It would say a lot about our government if Amb Brigety is allowed to continue serving in spite of adverse findings against his preposterous claims.