The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has sparked a diplomatic row by accusing South Africa of supplying arms and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine. Brigety said he had evidence that a Russian ship under US sanctions, the Lady R, loaded weapons from a naval base near Cape Town in December 2022. He said the US was concerned about South Africa’s neutrality in the conflict and urged it to stop any further violations of UN sanctions.
South Africa has denied the allegations and said it had no record of any approved arms exports to Russia in that period. It said it followed strict procedures and protocols when dealing with arms transfers and that it was conducting an internal investigation into the matter. It also said it was disappointed by the US claims and that no evidence had been provided to support them.
South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, summoned Brigety to a meeting on Friday and expressed the government’s “utter displeasure” with his conduct and statements. She said Brigety “admitted that he crossed the line and apologised unreservedly to the government and the people of South Africa”.
The US allegations have put South Africa in a difficult position as it tries to balance its relations with both the US and Russia, two of its major trading partners. South Africa is a member of the BRICS group of emerging economies, along with Russia, China, India, and Brazil. South Africa is also a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which grants preferential access to the US market for certain products from eligible African countries.
South Africa has maintained a neutral stance on the Ukraine conflict and has abstained from a UN vote condemning the Russian invasion. It has also participated in military exercises with Russia and China in February 2023, which were criticized by some as an endorsement of the Russian aggression.
The US has been vocal in opposing any country that supports Russia’s war in Ukraine and has imposed sanctions on several individuals and entities involved in the conflict. The US has also provided military assistance and training to Ukraine’s forces.
The allegations have also sparked reactions from South African politicians across the political spectrum. The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), John Steenhuisen, said he was “shocked” by the claims and called for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter. He said South Africa should not be “complicit” in Russia’s “illegal and brutal war”.Embed from Getty Images
The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, said he was “not surprised” by the allegations and accused the US of “bullying” South Africa. He said South Africa had the right to trade with whoever it wanted and that it should not be “dictated” by the US.
The leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, said he was “concerned” by the allegations and that his government was looking into them. He said South Africa was committed to peace and stability in Ukraine and that it respected international law and norms. He said South Africa valued its relations with both the US and Russia and that it hoped to resolve the issue amicably.