- The arming of Russia was “extremely serious” and brought into question South Africa’s neutral stance in the Ukrainian conflict.
- President Ramaphosa to respond in due course.
- South Africa’s ruling party African National Congress has an ideological history with Russia and the former Soviet Union.
In a surprising twist of events, the United States ambassador to South Africa has accused Pretoria of supplying arms to Russia in a move that could have big implications for the trading relationship between the two countries. As a direct consequence of the allegations, South Africa’s currency has fallen approximately 2%.
Ambassador Reuben Brigety, the American diplomatic mission chief to South Africa, said in comments carried by multiple South African news outlets that the U.S. was certain that the weapons were loaded onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship, the Lady R, that was secretly docked at the Simon's Town naval base before departing for Russia.
The arming of Russia was “extremely serious” and brought into question South Africa’s neutral stance in the Ukrainian conflict, he told reporters. At the time of the Lady R’s docking, South Africa’s defence minister said that the ship had delivered materials for South Africa’s defence forces, while in January the government denied it had been involved in any arms sales to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
US may cut its pending deals with South Africa
Brigety also stressed that the US had expressed “serious concerns” at the timing of naval exercises that South Africa had carried out with Russia and China within its territorial waters in February which coincided with the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
At the time of the exercises the South African government stated they had been planned for two years, but concerns were raised that South Africa could fall foul of the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which provides eligible African countries with duty- and quota-free access to the US market for a broad range of products.
Bigety gave the press conference after returning from a trip to the US with a team of South African officials led by SA national security advisor Sydney Mufamadi. While the South African administration would not confirm the exact nature of the mission, it is assumed that the purpose was to lobby members of the administration and Congress to ensure that the country is not expelled from the trade arrange
Following the US ‘findings’ on South Africa arms dealership with the Republic of South Africa, presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya, wrote on Twitter that President Ramaphosa had noted the United States’ remarks and would respond in due course. On Friday, Mr Ramaphosa confirmed that Pretoria did not authorise any weapons to be sent on a Russian cargo ship that docked in the country last December and if ever it occurred, it must have been an illegal transaction. Meanwhile the South African government is opening an independent inquiry led by a retired judge into the allegation, Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Thursday.
Will South Africa be pushed by US to isolate Russia
South Africa is understood to be a neutral party in the Russia-Ukraine conflict having absconded from voting against Russia at several international resolutive gatherings. Under the BRICS bloc South Africa maintains strong ties with Russia and it is highly unlikely that Putin may suffer isolation, especially from South Africa.
Sometime in February, South Africa conducted joint naval exercises with Russia and China – calling it routine – which the US and other Western powers expressed concern about at the time. The recent allegations have fuelled US scepticism over South Africa’s neutrality and whether the country will assist in nabbing President Putin when he visits South Africa.
In an opinion piece for African Business, South Africa-based legal consultant Lethabo Sithole, has raised the question of what South Africa should do if President Vladimir Putin attends the 15th summit of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in August. An arrest warrant for him has been issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) following allegations of illegal transfers of children from occupied Ukraine to Russia.
“South Africa is obligated under both international and domestic law to arrest Putin and hand him over to the ICC if he decides to travel to South Africa, she writes.
The country’s decision “will test its commitment to the rule of law and human rights. Prioritising strategic interests over obligations and legitimacy could have severe consequences for South Africa’s global reputation and commitment to justice.”
However, the *-fact the South Africa’s ruling party African National Congress has an ideological history with Russia and the former Soviet Union while the government maintains high levels of trade with the United States and the European Union means that President Ramaphosa finds himself in a precarious position on which relationship to sacrifice.