Questions over whether South Africa supplied Russia with arms fuel a huge diplomatic row with the US

Questions over whether South Africa supplied Russia with arms fuel a huge diplomatic row with the US

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – It is perhaps one of the biggest diplomatic spats between the US and South Africa, raising new questions on Friday, sinking the local currency market, threatening thousands of African jobs and still not providing definitive answers on whether South Africa, it was reported, became “a rogue state” and supplied arms to Russia.

Reuben Brigety, US Ambassador to South Africa, was summoned to meet with South African Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor on Friday over Brigety’s allegation that South Africa supplied Russia with weapons. .

At a press conference on Thursday, the US ambassador said weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian freighter at Simonstown, a naval base near Cape Town.

“We are confident that weapons were loaded on that ship and I would stake my life on the accuracy of that claim,” Brigety told reporters. “Russian arming is extremely serious and we do not consider this issue to be resolved. And we would like (South Africa to start) to practice its non-alignment policy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, with South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa. The US ambassador to South Africa accused the Ramaphosa government of supplying Russia with arms. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP, Archive)


Local currency markets plummeted on the news. The previous Friday, the rand dropped to an all-time low against the US dollar after a South African government official tweeted: “The National Conventional Arms Control Committee has no record of a sale of State-approved weapons for Russia relating to the period/incident in question.”

The tweet was posted by Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy at the Pretoria Department of International Relations.

Later, Monyela returned to Twitter, confirming that a meeting had taken place between her boss, Minister Naledi Pandor, and the US ambassador.

“We expressed our displeasure with his conduct and he admitted that he had crossed a line and apologized unreservedly,” Monyela wrote.

Later, the ambassador appeared to eat the humble diplomatic pie, tweeting: “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Foreign Minister Pandor this evening and correct any erroneous impressions left by my public comments. In our conversation, I reaffirmed the strong partnership between our two countries and the important agenda our presidents have given us.”

Prompted by a comment from Fox News Digital, the State Department forwarded Fox News Digital to the ambassador’s tweet.

Pandor also spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. There was no word on whether South Africa had lodged a protest against the ambassador, but State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at the meeting, “Secretary Blinken highlighted the importance of the US-South Africa strategic partnership and reiterated cooperation on shared priorities”.

Some of Pandor’s government colleagues went to Washington just under two weeks ago to try to persuade the US not to cut trade incentives with South Africa because of Pretoria’s stance. He has repeatedly called Russia “friends” and has abstained at the United Nations on several occasions from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


President Ramaphosa’s office released a statement adding that more had happened in Washington than was initially reported.

“In recent engagements between the South African delegation and US officials, the Lady R matter was discussed, and there was agreement that an investigation will be allowed to run its course and that US intelligence services will provide whatever evidence is available. in your possession,” he said. said the statement.

Russian Frigate Admiral Gorshkov

People on a yacht, right, protest the Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov docked in the port of Cape Town, South Africa, February 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

Observers believe that South Africans were angered that the ambassador spoke publicly about the Russian freighter, which is why Monyela also tweeted: “There is a commitment to use established diplomatic channels to raise any issues that may arise in managing relations bilateral agreements between the two countries.”


One question remains. Why, when state-of-the-art cargo terminals are available in the port of Cape Town, was a sanctioned Russian freighter allowed to dock at a South African naval base?

A State Department spokesperson lit fire on this issue at a briefing this week, telling reporters: “The US has serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian freighter at a South African naval port in December last year. “.

Guns or no guns, analysts say South Africa will have to change its mind about Putin’s Russia if it wants to save the thousands of jobs tied to the US AGOA trade deal, which allows duty-free imports of a wide range of items from cars to oranges in the US market.

blinken and pandora

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor (right) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) attend an opening session of the strategic dialogue at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria, South Africa on August 8, 2022. – Blinken is on a ten-day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo and Rwanda. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP) (Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Monyela, again on Twitter, reported that there will be an investigation into the supply of weapons to Russia.

“The inquiry, initiated by HE President Cyril Ramaphosa, will be a platform to establish facts and actors in the incident in question,” he tweeted.

This raised another question from observers and opposition politicians. This is a small naval base, capable of handling only a handful of ships. Why didn’t President Ramaphosa simply ask his defense minister to tell him – if he doesn’t know – what happened to the Russian ship?

Opposition leader John Steenhuisen of the Democratic Alliance put into words the fears of many when he addressed Ramaphosa in Parliament here Thursday.

“South African weapons and ammunition could have been used to massacre innocent civilians,” Steenhuisen told the South African president. “My question is simply this: how do you face the world and how do you sleep at night?”


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