WATCH | Ramaphosa, Steenhuisen clash over US claims about Russian ship

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter

President Cyril Ramaphosa told parliament the government was “looking into” explosive allegations by the US government that a Russian ship loaded weapons on board when it was docked at Simon's Town naval base.

“In time, we will be able to talk about it,” said Ramaphosa. 

Ramaphosa was answering questions on various matters of national interest, including Eskom’s energy crisis and the gold mafia exposé when DA leader John Steenhuisen sneaked in a new question that was not on the order paper.  

He told Ramaphosa that it was not only gold and cigarettes that were being smuggled in and out of the country. 

“A little while ago the US announced that weapons, ammunition and materials of war were loaded on to the sanctioned Russian ship the Lady R when she docked at your government’s naval base in Simon’s Town last December. 

“This suggests that the ANC government is actively arming Russian soldiers who are murdering innocent people not only in the Ukraine but also across the African continent. It’s been half a year now since the scandal of the Lady R docking in Simon’s Town and I find it inconceivable that a president worth his salt would not have been briefed on this situation by now.” 

Steenhuisen asked Ramaphosa to confirm whether weapons of war were loaded on board the Lady R before she left Simon’s Town. 

As he was about to respond, National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakulo told Ramaphosa that he was not compelled to respond because it was a new question. 

This is when Steenhuisen challenged Mapisa-Nqakula, who called him to order. “You can do better than that,” she said. 

Responding, Ramaphosa said: “While Mr Steenhuisen puffs off his anger and is performing, I wanted to say Simon’s Town is not what you call ‘your government’s Simon’s Town’. It is South Africa’s; it belongs to the people of South Africa. 

“I wanted to correct you and be patriotic and regard installations as important as those as belonging to the people of South Africa. I want you to not be derisive, and I don’t want you to be as insulting as you are about things and installations such as those.” 

“We are all aware of the news of the Lady R and that whole matter is being looked into. I want you to allow that process to continue to reach its fruition.” 

Ramaphosa told a red-faced Steenhuisen: “I know that you are so keen and so interested in knowing exactly what happened. The matter ... ”  

Steenhuisen interrupted Ramaphosa, uttering something inaudible, to which the president said: “No, it isn’t ... in time, we will be able to talk about it.”  

Ramaphosa turned to Mapisa-Nqakula, telling her she was right when she told the house that the question was new. 

Steenhuisen was referring to a TimesLIVE report that the Russian ship that docked at Simon's Town left South Africa loaded with weapons, according to the US government. 

The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, told media in Pretoria on Thursday that Washington had established the vessel was loaded with weapons while docked at the naval base.

There was controversy when the vessel docked, with Pretoria silent on its activities while in South African waters. 

Brigety said this was one of the issues of “concern” raised by US senior officials with a high-level South African delegation that visited the US recently. Brigety said it would be “a mistake to underestimate the concerns in Washington”. 

Last month, the Sunday Times reported that Ramaphosa sent a delegation to Washington to smooth the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s planned visit to South Africa in August, hoping to avoid a diplomatic fallout that could put trade ties worth R400bn at risk. 

The delegation, which Brigety said was accommodated by Washington despite the visit coming at short notice, met senior US officials, including an adviser to President Joe Biden. 

During the trip, the envoys explained the defence force's recent military drill with the Russians off Richards Bay, and said they had participated in similar exercises with other countries, including the US. 

Brigety said Washington was concerned South Africa had said it was taking a neutral stance on the Russia/Ukraine conflict. However, there was a “series of issues”, including the Russian vessel allegedly leaving South Africa with arms, which indicated the opposite. 

He said arming Russia was a big concern for his government, which viewed South Africa as an important partner in many aspects.

Mapisa-Nqakula reminded the house of a parliamentary rule that a supplementary question must arise directly from an original question and the reply given there too. 

“That does not constitute a new question. That is the basis upon which I made the remark, which I believe is correct. Here we are political parties with diverse and different views on every matter.” 

IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa told Ramaphosa that at the heart of the matter was the collapse of SA’s intelligence: “We have seen this before and every time a new episode arises, it’s the clearest indication that there are problems.”  

TimesLIVE

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