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Ramaphosa must expand Lady R probe to include Nato

06 Jun 2023 at 17:05hrs | Views
SOUTH Africa's sovereignty stands in the dock. Whether we emerge as truly autonomous before the eyes of the world – the jury is out. Recent events that have pitted our country against the might of the hegemonic superpower that is the United States has thrust President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration in a spot of bother. "To be or not to be? that is question." My apology to Shakespeare.

Ramaphosa recently announced the appointment of a retired judge to lead an inquiry into the thus-far unsubstantiated yet damning claims by the US ambassador, Aubrey Brigety, that SA has armed Russia in its war with Ukraine.

Brigety was so self-assured in his public assertion that the rand tumbled under the weight of the US ambassador's words to the effect that he was certain about his claims he could put his life on the line to back up his allegations.

In the light of such a full-frontal attack by Brigety, who put all diplomatic decorum in abeyance – it is commendable that a country whose systems are steeped in the ethos of a constitutional democracy has initiated a public probe to clear its name, and image.

The rule of law is paramount in South Africa. Although the temptation does exist to wish that Ramaphosa could have swiftly dismissed Brigety's claims outright, it is worthwhile to play cards conspicuously in the light of the massive public interest in the matter.

I want to contend from the outset that I find the terms of reference for the president's commission of inquiry rather disappointingly narrow. Ramaphosa has tasked a three-member independent panel led by retired Judge PMD Mojapelo to investigate "circumstances of the docking of the Russian vessel known as Lady R" in Simon's Town, Western Cape, in December 2022.

"Through this inquiry," the Presidency statement read: "The government seeks to establish the circumstances that led to the docking of the ship and the alleged loading of cargo, and the departure of the Lady R cargo ship from Simon's Town, during the period from 6 to 9 December 2022."

The government further shared its rationale behind the establishment of the Commission, which has been given six weeks to conclude its work. "The President decided to establish the enquiry because of the seriousness of the allegations, the extent of public interest and the impact of this matter on South Africa's international relations," read the government statement.

Also of notable importance, "the panel has been tasked to establish persons who were aware of the cargo ship's arrival, and, if any, the contents to be off-loaded or loaded, the departure and destination of the cargo".

Additionally, also of greater importance is the brief to the Mojapelo-led panel to evaluate whether constitutional, legal or other obligations were complied with in relation to the cargo ship's arrival in the Cape, "its stay, the loading or off-loading of its contents, and its departure".

In the final report to the government at the end of the six-week period allocated for the life-span of the Commission, Ramaphosa expects to receive recommendations "on any steps that may need to be taken in the light of their findings or as a result of any breaches that may have occurred".

I am not privy to the cost implication of the inquiry to the taxpayer, save to allude to the historically exorbitant fees out of the fiscus every time an initiative of this nature is undertaken. But, still, that is the lesser of my concerns.

Furthermore, let me refrain from delving on the merits, or demerits thereof, of the Commission and give the body time, space and the privacy to carry out their important task.

In fact, that at hand is of utmost importance in SA's foreign policy practice is an understatement. Any slight finding that could give credence to Brigety's publicly discredited allegations will be of dire consequences to Pretoria.

Already, US-SA relations are at their lowest in history, aggravated by SA's non-aligned stance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The US has failed to prevail over SA to take their side against Russia, much to Washington's exasperation with Pretoria's seeming stubbornness.

The threat of economic sanctions has thus far been bandied about, albeit in hushed tones. The Ramaphosa administration, I guess, must be certain of their innocence in the Lady R saga. I cannot find any logic in their pursuit of such a public enquiry that could have devastating consequences politically and economically.

I have earlier argued against the narrow terms of reference awarded to the Commission. As a self-declared non-aligned sovereign state, methinks the Ramaphosa administration should have extended to the terms of references to cover, among others, whether any of the Nato states has supplied SA-sourced weapons or military equipment to Ukraine without the requisite permission of SA.

There have been reports – hitherto unchallenged – that Estonia has supplied its batch of SA-purchased Mamba 4x4 Armoured Personnel Carrier vehicles to Ukraine as part of the US-led Nato appeal for the armament of the Kyiv's Zelensky administration.

According to international law, an "End User Certificate (EUC) is required prior to the export, or re-export, of conventional arms, irrespective of origin."

Estonia has had no permission from SA to re-export the Mambas to Ukraine. SA could never have granted such a permission as Pretoria's stance is non-aligned in the conflict.

Yet, there has been no threat of consequences looming against Estonia, ostensibly insulated from reprisals by its Nato membership.

Apart from the Estonian example of how SA's rights were likely violated under international law, there are further examples where Nato states could be doing just the same at this very moment – with impunity.

For example, last December Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM), a consortium that comprises SA's arms' manufacturer Denel, won a multimillion-euro contract to build an explosives factory in Hungary, a Nato state.

DefenceWeb reported that in terms of the deal – signed on December 15, 2022 – a new plant would be built this year and production expected to begin in the next few years.

The new plant is expected to produce explosives that can be used for artillery, tank and mortar ammunition, among others.

Rheinmetall explained in interviews that their undertaking in Hungary "is in response to the shortage of explosives resulting from strong demand for ammunition in Europe and Nato".

RDM specialises in "the development, design and manufacture of large and medium calibre ammunition as well as plant engineering". The consortium at whose centre is SA arms manufacturer Denel, a state-owned entity, is credited with establishing "filling plants in three dozen different countries over the last three decades".

RDM's "Assegai family of artillery ammunition can be fired from any Nato STANAG-compatible artillery system, including the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer". Germany has supplied "a number of PzH 2000s to Ukraine, which is using them against Russian forces". Furthermore, the system is in service in Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Lithuania, Hungary, Qatar and Croatia.

Another company that ought to come under the government's scrutiny is explosives and landmines specialists, DCD Protected Mobility – a Boksburg-based company near OR Tambo International.

DCD's general manager Cornelius Grundling was quoted as follows: "The company's flagship product, the Husky – also known as the Vehicle Mounted Mine Detector (VMMD) – is in service in 17 countries around the world, including Nato nations."

Furthermore, "DCD Protected Mobility has a long-standing partnership with the US-based AirBoss Defense Group (ADG)," through which the Husky Mine Detection System is marketed and supported, according to the company.

My argument is that, if the government's primary concern is the claims by Brigety, so be it. Let's accept that the US claims triggered the probe. However, in the light of plausible claims that SA-manufactured ammunition supplied to Nato countries are freely forwarded to the battlefield in Ukraine is a grave matter that cannot be ignored.

Non-aligned means SA is not involved in the conflict – on either side – directly or indirectly. Nato countries cannot be at liberty to flaunt the international rules, practices and laws in their Russophobia-inspired aid to Ukraine by doing as they please about SA-acquired arms.

Since the facts about SA weapons-manufacturing companies' likely involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict are public knowledge, methinks officials in the Presidency or elsewhere in the government should flag this probable transgression of international law. A probe led by the retired judge should have its powers expanded, and terms of reference widened, so that the government establishes facts about the extent of the country's involvement – if any, in the conflict.

A holistic enquiry will likely answer most, if not all the curious public interest-related questions, instead of partial accountability.

SA's fledgling democracy is premised on the rule of law, and equality before the law, regardless of who is involved. I hope advisers in the Presidency will realise that there is still time to make amends.

Source - iol
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