Two top news stories dominated our newspapers this week and either of them may make it to our news item of the year. The first exploded onto our news channels on Friday morning. The US ambassador to South Africa accused this country of clandestinely supplying weapons to Russia despite our professed neutrality in the war in Ukraine. This story made it straight onto all our newspaper front pages and also onto CNN.
Reuben Brigety, the American Ambassador to SA on Thursday claimed that a Russian cargo ship was loaded with ammunition and arms in the Cape last December.
The story of the Russian ship ‘Lady R’ is intriguing. It arrived not into the Cape Town harbour but rather the small Simonstown harbour at nightfall and under cover of darkness with its transponder turned off and accompanied by a SA naval escort… Why?…
The ship was then loaded with ? in the darkness of night while Simonstown was in the midst of a power outage and while the harbour was guarded by SANDF security.
The Ambassador said that arms were (illegally) loaded in containers, brought with huge cranes onto the harbour of which the Americans have photos. There are enough naval retirees in Simonstown with binoculars to be interested and one or two of them photographed the containers being unloaded. Some of these photos made it onto WhatsApp and some were printed in Die Burger.
The SA government went ballistic after Brigety’s statement. And after a demarche of the Ambassador they got an apology from Brigety when he admitted that he had overstepped protocols. What he didn’t say was that he was mistaken and arms were not loaded….. but our Min of Foreign Affairs called it an unconditional apology from the US as if everything he said was wrong and he was correcting that. She, in accepting his apology intimated that it came due to her uncompromising stance.
The story actually gets “worse” when you recall that a huge Russian cargo plane landed surreptitiously last month at our Waterkloof Airforce Base without explanation.
Well, the explanation the SA officials gave after the event was that this plane was delivering mail. Really? Now who believes that?
Stuart Theobold, in Business Day earlier this week believes that US diplomatic sources are behind this accusation to expose SA’s dalliance with Putin. He further believes that SA’s investability is now seriously compromised.
The fallout from these events is continuing but you will not be surprised to learn that when Ramaphosa was asked by the leader of the Opposition, John Steenhuisen about this affair in Parliament his answer was non-committal. Cyril wasn’t prepared to answer directly as he said he was waiting for an independent investigation that he had just set up to be completed before giving his view.
That doesn’t surprise you does is it?
The press has been most critical of the Russian affair and the way we are handling it.
S’Thembiso Msomi in his editorial in the Sunday Times asks if we can afford another 5 years of Ramaphosa.
In the same newspaper, editor Barney Mtembothi wonders if the arms loaded onto Lady R were not destined for Sudan. Quite a thought, that. Zapiro gets it so right again with his cartoon from the Daily Maverick on Tuesday:
My Mampara of the Week is our Min of Defence, Thandi Modise. She claims not to know what was loaded on/off the Lady R. As Business Day pointed out, if that is true it is as bad as admitting we are supplying Russia with arms.
But Cyril came very close winning my MoW himself.
In his weekly newsletter on Monday he finally advised SA he was about to appoint a retired Judge to look into the whole matter of the American Ambassador’s statement. Why asks Die Burger did he not react three months ago when the Lady R arrived?
A side note: We have a well known arms expert in Cape Town, Helmut Heitman. He is of the opinion that it is unlikely that our arms (which are supplied to many countries) were loaded for Russia because they would require a great deal of tweaking to get them to be of any use to the Russians. And so could the Ambassador be wrong? If so, what were the Russians doing here?
You may also remember just two months ago the SA Navy–both of our seaworthy warships–partook in joint ocean excersises with Chinese and Russian naval fleets off our East coast not far from Durban. Incongruous to say the least.
This week our army chief is in Moscow having talks with his “counterparts”. Our government claims it is simply a routine visit.
Now are you surprised to learn that America is questioning our neutrality about the war?
The reality of the situation is brought home by the Rand weakening to its lowest level ever against the dollar on Friday. R1=$19.52 Brandan’s view of Ramaphosa in this matter is from Business Day on Friday morning:
Another pressing problem has developed with regard to SA’s “neutrality”. The Russian government have made it quite clear that should President Putin be arrested as the ICC (International Criminal Court) demands when he puts foot into this country for the BRICS (Brasil, Russia, India, China & SA) annual meeting, it will be taken as a declaration of war. Russia has made it clear that Putin will be here in person and will not attend the meeting virtually.
This is a running story so watch this space.
The other big story of the week would have been even bigger if it wasn’t for the Russian affair.
It is the book ‘Truth to Power’ launched on Sunday by Andre de Ruyter exposing the massive corruption and malfeasance at Eskom.
Has any book ever been more keenly accepted than this one? People were standing in queues at bookstores to get their hands on a copy but I got my copy on-line and have all but read it already.
Large extracts from the book were circulated on Whatsapp and email. Once you are fully aware of what goes on at Eskom you will understand why De Ruyter is keeping his current whereabouts secret. All that is known is that he is no longer in SA.
De Ruyter was the longest serving CEO in 15 years at Eskom and he lasted only for three years. His predecessor was shot at and De Ruyter himself was poisoned although his life was luckily saved.
But this story, too has a tail.
Yesterday, Minister Pravin Gordhan, a “boss” of de Ruyter was in Parliament to answer questions from SCOPA (the Standing committee on Public Accounts). He was quizzed about De Ruyter, the book and his views on the allegations made in the book.
Gordhan was not flattering. He blasted De Ruyter, called him an egoist and wanted to know who ran Eskom while the CEO was collecting “skinder” stories.
Also yesterday the court case between Ramaphosa and Zuma started. The President wants the former President’s private prosecution of him to be finally scrapped and he is in court seeking an interdict against the Former President. Zuma claims that Ramaphosa’s allowing the Prosecutor Adv Billy Downer and journalist Karen Maughan see his private medical records prejudices him for a fair trial in the “Arms deal” case. Ramaphosa maintains that Jacob Zuma’s attempt to prosecute him is vexatious and frivolous and should be firmly and finally rejected. This is all part of Zuma’s plan to delay his ‘day in court’ or indeed permanently having his ‘arms deal’ case scrapped says Ramaphosa……And many of us agree.
Some very good news is that our tourist numbers are up and the first quarter statistics show a more than double increase in visitors compared to the first quarter of last year. That was the first year after Covid.
The weekend sport had its highlights. Our Stormsrs rugby team played magnificent running rugby to outscore the highly fancied Irish team, Connacht to earn a well-deserved (am I biased?) home final for the 2nd year in a row.
The coach was on the couch and our new neighbour, a rugby nut, Dawie was on the couch too. That then brought the world champion out of the bedroom to join us watch a game where running tactics beat bullying tactics.
The Stormers (reigning champions) have now achieved this second consecutive run into the finals of the United Rugby Competition. Let’s hope they can beat Munster in a little more than a weeks time to successfully defend that title.
Spurs were terrible and lost 1-2. But you know it’s tough being a Spurs fan.
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