🔒 Premium – RW Johnson: More own goals means CR’s Lady R inquiry a farce before it begins

A month ago, the headline to Bloomberg Opinion columnist Bobby Ghosh’s view of the African presidential jamboree to Central Europe summed up the global view: “Ramaphosa’s Ukraine Peace Mission is Pure Deflection.”

Ghosh, ex-international editor at Time, managing editor at Quartz and editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times kicked off with: “You could almost see the egg dripping from Cyril Ramaphosa’s face as he announced an African peace mission to Moscow and Kyiv….he is desperate to distract attention from his economic and political troubles at home as well as his foreign policy failures.”

Nothing that has happened during the adventure itself will get Ghosh (or his readers) to reverse such a scathing view. Especially not the past weekend’s farce in Poland where CR’s security detail (and accompanying reporters) couldn’t disembark in Warsaw because of a muck up with permits for their weapons.


So many obvious questions. And some not so obvious like why SA taxpayers coughed up for 100 supernumeraries whose absence wasn’t noticed; or why Pretoria could commandeer one of just six SAA aircraft, disrupting the local schedule of the embattled airline. More own goals. Like those RW writes about below. Roll on 2024.

– Alec Hogg    

Another own goal – Cyril’s Lady R inquiry is a farce before it starts

By RW Johnson

The news that a group of US Senators and Congressmen have petitioned the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and the Biden administration not to hold the Forum on Agoa in South Africa has set the cat among the pigeons. Moreover, the US lawmakers go further and question whether Agoa privileges should still be shared by South Africa, given Pretoria’s protracted flirtation with Putin.      

Although this news is hardly unexpected, it seems to have seriously rattled South Africa’s presidency. As a result the Trade minister, Ebrahim Patel, has been hurriedly dispatched to Washington to “explain” South Africa’s non-alignment policy. This will be of limited utility. Earlier attempts to “explain” this policy have been met with the retort that explanations are not what is needed. What is needed is that South Africa actually practice non-alignment. 

What is meant by that is that South Africa, as a UN member, must impartially observe the UN Charter, which insists on respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Given that Russia has said that Ukraine should not exist and has invaded it, thus disrespecting both its territorial integrity and its national sovereignty, South Africa’s non-aligned duty is clear…. Ramaphosa can twist and turn and come up with whatever words he likes, but there’s no avoiding that sticking point. The pretence that all that is needed is explanation – as if Western countries are dimly failing to understand – is absurd. 

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But listen to the Presidential spokesman, Vincent Magwenya:

“The contents of the (Congressional) letter disturbingly consist of unsubstantiated claims. The US lawmakers have no proof pf what they are claiming, nor have they submitted any evidence in this regard. US intelligence services have also failed to submit any evidence to support this claim. We hope the evidence US intelligence services purport to have will be submitted to the inquiry panel led by retired Judge Mojapelo. South Africa has not armed any of the parties in this conflict…..

(Any punitive trade action on South Africa would be based on) hysteria, hearsay and contempt for South Africa’s sovereignty in the conduct of foreign policy.”

Most of this is merely bluster. It is, of course, preposterous to imagine the CIA or NSA submitting its intelligence data to an inquiry set up by Ramaphosa purely as a means of kicking for touch. And if the US decides to hold the Agoa Forum elsewhere it has every right to do so. Even if it took away South Africa’s Agoa membership this would imply no contempt for anything, it would merely be the US not continuing to give a favour wholly in its gift.

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But the really interesting sentence is that “South Africa has not armed any of the parties in this conflict”. In effect Magwenya is announcing the conclusion of Judge Mojapelo’s inquiry before that inquiry has even reported. Throughout diplomatic circles this will be taken to mean that the Mojapelo inquiry is a farce since it is clearly under strong government pressure to report that, contrary to what US intelligence says, no ammunition was loaded on to the Lady R. 

Already the inquiry was under some pressure, with the Defence minister, Thandi Modise, having twice denied that anything was loaded onto the Lady R, but to have the official Presidential spokesman adding his voice to that puts Mojapelo in an impossible position. Moreover, one of his panel, Enver Surty is now bound to take the government side purely as a matter of ANC discipline. 

The ironic result is that the inquiry’s findings will now be taken seriously only if the panel finds that US intelligence was correct and ammunition was onloaded to the Lady R. That would clearly be an act of great courage by Judge Mojapelo who would doubtless then find himself accused by government ministers of being a tool of US imperialism, a CIA agent etc. If, on the other hand, the inquiry finds the other way it will be dismissed with a knowing smile as having merely carried out the government’s orders. In which case Mr Mojapelo will find that his professional reputation is in shreds, just as Judge Seriti did after his clearly rigged inquiry into the Arms Deal. Thus all that Mr Magwenya has done with his outburst is to destroy the credibility of the inquiry set up by the President.

All of which seems extremely unfair to Judge Mojapelo, who had a blameless legal career. Moreover, in 1996 the judge was part of an International Bar Association mission to Kenya to examine threats to the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary there. This was followed by a similar mission to Sri Lanka in 1997 for the International Commission of Jurists to examine threats to the independence of the judiciary there. Judge Mojapelo was doubtless selected for these missions not only because of his good standing but because he was a reliable supporter of judicial independence.

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Now, however, the good judge has been placed in a position where it will be extremely difficult for him to retain his reputation for judicial independence, and where, one way or the other, he is bound to find himself the target for a great deal of criticism and contempt. It would seem that his only way out now is to resign from the judicial panel of inquiry, pointing out that his position has been made impossible. 

Why has all this happened? The fatal moment was clearly when President Ramaphosa intervened to reverse the statement put out by Naledi Pandor denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With that South Africa was launched down a slippery slope and we have been losing friends and economic prospects ever since. It was a huge own goal.

And completely unnecessary. Kenya issued a strong statement denouncing Russia and upholding the UN Charter. Not only did this win it plaudits in the West but it did not cost it any friends elsewhere. Recently Mr Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has been spending a great deal of time in wooing Kenya. After all, Kenya was simply doing what most AU members (and most UN members) did, so neither Russia nor China singled them out. South Africa could easily have done the same.

But now, with the consequences of Ramaphosa’s own goal piling up in threatening manner, the government has scored another own goal, undermining its own judicial inquiry. One begins to understand why South Africa has never got anywhere in the soccer World Cup. The other side haven’t had to do anything yet but we’re already 0-2 down and we haven’t looked like scoring yet.

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