The Minister of Defence alters her account of the Lady R incident

Issued by Dianne Kohler Barnard MP – DA Shadow Minister of State Security
15 Jun 2023 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Dianne Kohler Barnard MP.

During a session in the National Assembly, Minister of Defence Thandi Modise initially informed the DA that nothing was loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R. Her claim was therefore that the ship had docked at Simon’s Town, a port without fixed cranes, which were later transported and set up during the night under the surveillance of non-uniformed personnel armed with military-grade automatic weapons. Despite these circumstances, she asserted that nothing was loaded onto the ship.

However, in the latest National Assembly meeting, the Minister changed her narrative. She stated that the Lady R was, in fact, delivering a consignment from Russia, implying that the South African government possessed more knowledge about the ship’s loading and unloading than they have disclosed thus far.

Furthermore, the Minister speculated about the possibility of a private company potentially utilising the Lady R to transport illegal arms or other contraband destined for Russia. She claimed that all details would be revealed by the Commission of Inquiry, erroneously referring to it as a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. She also contradicted herself regarding Defence Intelligence’s awareness of the foreign-owned ship, stating that they both knew and did not need to know about it since their focus should be outside the country.

It is worth noting that the Lady R has been included in the US Treasury’s list of sanctioned Russian vessels and shipping companies since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as it is alleged to be involved in transporting weapons.

Several eyewitnesses, including civilians, have reported seeing items being offloaded from and loaded onto the ship. If indeed weapons were loaded onto the Lady R for use by the Russians in their conflict with Ukraine, it would severely discredit the ANC’s claim of South Africa’s non-alignment.

The Minister’s suggestion that a private company may have exported arms to Russia is an extraordinary allegation. If military supplies were indeed loaded onto this Russian ship within a National Key Point without the knowledge of our Defence Force, it would constitute a grave breach of national security. Accountability must be established for all those who may have allowed a naval base to be misused in this manner.

The Minister’s recent actions have only served to dig a deeper hole for herself than when she initially evaded questions in December.

It is possible that the close relationship between the ANC government and Russia, including social events and joint military exercises, has played a role in these developments.

However, it seems that the Minister has realised that if there is concrete evidence showing South Africa’s involvement in supplying weapons to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, our country may face sanctions. It is important to recognize that our trade reliance on the EU far exceeds that on Russia, and we greatly benefit from preferential access to US markets through the AGOA treaty.

Complete and transparent disclosure regarding the activities involving the loading and unloading of the Lady R remains pending. If the government has nothing to hide concerning the Lady R’s docking, their continued evasion in providing a comprehensive account of the events raises questions. The government’s silence on this matter continues to be unsettling.

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