The American ambassador to South Africa stated on Thursday that he was certain that a Russian ship had picked up weaponry in South Africa last year, potentially violating Pretoria’s declared neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.
Following the U.S. claim, the rand and South Africa’s 2030 government bond continued to decline, with currency traders expressing concern that the country would now be subject to Western sanctions.
The government has launched an independent investigation into the claim, which will be overseen by a retired judge, according to a statement from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.
When an opposition leader questioned Ramaphosa about the cargo earlier in parliament, the president did not confirm or deny that it had occurred.
Reuben Brigety, the American ambassador to South Africa, briefed local journalists and said that Washington was certain that a Russian ship had carried weapons and ammunition from South Africa in December.
The Russian cargo ship Lady R docked in Simon’s Town between December 6 and December 8, 2022, which, according to Brigety, is when it uploaded weapons and ammunition on its route back to Russia.
Brigety said, “Arming of Russia by South Africa with the vessel… is fundamentally unacceptable,” and that senior U.S. official had “profound concerns” about South Africa’s alleged policy of non-alignment and neutrality over Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
According to him, this “does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country.”
On a continent divided after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, South Africa is one of Russia’s most significant supporters. However, the country claims to be impartial about the crisis and has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions related to the war.
US WARNINGS ON HELPING RUSSIA
One of Brigety’s prior positions was as a researcher with Human Rights Watch’s armaments program, according to a profile that was posted on the website of the American embassy in South Africa.
Washington has frequently urged nations not to give Russia material help, stating that those who do risk having access to the biggest markets in the world denied to them.
Vedant Patel, the deputy spokeswoman for the US State Department, refrained from reiterating the claim that weapons had been transported onboard the ship during a briefing on Thursday. He informed reporters that Washington has voiced its significant concerns about the ship’s arrival at a South African naval port directly with several South African officials.
“We have been quite clear and have not parsed words about any country taking steps to support Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine, and we will continue to engage with partners and countries on this topic,” Patel said.
When asked about the promise of an investigation from South Africa, he responded, “It would certainly be a welcome step.”
Both the U.S. Treasury Department and the American Embassy in South Africa declined to comment.
After accompanying a high-level South African team to the United States to address concerns about South Africa’s ties with Russia, Brigety made the comments to the press upon his return to Pretoria.
The South African presidency claimed that no evidence had yet been presented by Washington and that the matter of the alleged arms shipment had already been discussed with American officials, who had consented to an investigation to proceed.
“The Ambassador’s remarks undermine the spirit of cooperation and partnership that characterised the recent engagements between US government officials and a South African official delegation,” the presidency said in its statement.
Photo by Waldo Swiegers