Russian ship 'Lady R' unloaded ammunition in South Africa, did not upload weapons, minister says

Russian ship 'Lady R' unloaded ammunition in South Africa, did not upload weapons, minister says
Russian ship Lady R (right) leaving Simons Town naval base in December 2022. / Limewrite via wikimedia
By Thulani Mpofu May 26, 2023

A South African minister has said a Russian cargo ship that docked at a local naval port in December 2022 delivered ammunition from Moscow, not to collect weapons as a top US envoy alleged recently.

Responding to a question by an opposition legislator in parliament on Tuesday (May 23), defence minister, Thandi Modise said the government ordered the ammunition in 2018 but the delivery was delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

She, however, refused to release the cargo documents to parliament, saying she will only do so to an inquiry ordered by President Cyril Ramaphosa after US ambassador to the country, Reuben E Brigety alleged on May 11 that the vessel, the “Lady R”, uploaded weapons to Russia. 

“All documentation from the time the order was made in 2018 up to the time of offloading, all documentation of SARS (SA Revenue Service) will be made to that inquiry so that we can be allowed to think and proceed with other business of the defence,” Modise noted, local paper the Cape Times reported on May 24.

Brigety made the claim, which he later withdrew, at a time when Africa’s most developed economy is under pressure for being silent on Russia’s war on Ukraine.  The pressure is building up as South Africa prepares to host a BRICS summit to which Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited.  The African nation is obliged to arrest him if he sets foot in the country as he is under an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant since March.

Ramaphosa recently appointed an inter-ministerial committee to come up with a position on Putin’s possible visit.

However, the secretary general of his ruling African National Congress party, Fikile Mbalula told the BBC on Tuesday that Putin is welcome to attend the summit of the BRICS group of nations, whose members are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“If it was according to the ANC, we would want President Putin to be here, even tomorrow, to come to our country,” he said according to the Associated Press on Wednesday. “We will welcome him to come here as part and parcel of BRICS.”