Ramaphosa to investigate alleged arms pickup by Russian vessel

Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has set up a three-member independent panel to investigate whether arms were picked up by a Russian vessel when it docked south of Cape Town in December.  

The move follows allegations by the US ambassador to South Africa this month that weapons were loaded onto the Russian ship, the Lady R, at Simon’s Town port. Reuben Brigety’s claims sent the rand tumbling more than 5% in four days, and the ensuing diplomatic row threatens to undermine South Africa’s trade agreements with the US.

“The panel will finalize its investigation within six weeks of its appointment and will be expected to submit its report to the president within two weeks of concluding its work,” the presidency said in a statement on Sunday. “The panel may request an extension of this time frame should it be necessary.”

If the report were to be produced on time, it may be given to the president before South Africa hosts the BRICs Summit in August, with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the invitee list — another political event that would risk weakening the rand further.

The panel will comprise retired judge Phineas Mojapelo, who will act as chairman, together with advocate Leah Gcabashe and Enver Surty, a lawyer and politician.

South Africa’s defence minister, speaking in parliament last week, said the Russian vessel had been unloading ammunition from Moscow, not the other way around, one IntelliNews reported. 

The material had been ordered from Russia before the coronavirus pandemic and its delivery had been delayed, said Minister of Defense Thandi Modise.  


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