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US ambassador accuses South Africa of providing arms to Russia

The US ambassador to South Africa has accused the country of supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia despite its declared neutrality in the war in Ukraine.

A US sanctioned Russian cargo ship, Lady R, docked in Simon‚Äôs Town naval base near Cape Town last December, and US ambassador, Reuben Brigety, said he was ‚Äúconfident‚ÄĚ that it was loaded with arms.

The government said on Thursday that an independent inquiry would be launched into the alleged arms shipment, with the understanding that US intelligence would share whatever evidence it had, following discussions between officials.

Vincent Magwenya, a spokesperson for the South African presidency, said ‚Äúthere was agreement that an investigation will be allowed to run its course‚ÄĚ and it was therefore ‚Äúdisappointing that the US ambassador has adopted a counter-productive public posture that undermines the understanding reached on the matter and the very positive and constructive engagements between the two delegations‚ÄĚ.

Earlier, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, did not confirm or deny the shipment took place but said his government was looking into the matter when he was asked about the issue in parliament.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa replies to questions in parliament, regarding the electricity crisis, in Cape Town, South Africa, May 11, 2023. REUTERS/Esa Alexander
South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said his government is looking into the matter (Photo: Esa Alexander/Reuters)

John Steenhuisen, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), said the US ambassador‚Äôs remarks were proof that the South African government was ‚Äúnot non-aligned in Russia‚Äôs war on Ukraine‚ÄĚ.

He accused Mr Ramaphosa and his government of lying to South Africa and the world ‚Äúas to our country‚Äôs involvement in this devastating conflict‚ÄĚ.

‚ÄúPresident Cyril Ramaphosa and his government are actively involved in the Russian Federation‚Äôs war on Ukraine,‚ÄĚ he added.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know what that ambassador‚Äôs talking about,‚ÄĚ countered a spokesperson for the South African government.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Brigety said: “Amongst the things we noted were the docking of the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town between 6 December and 8 December, 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons, ammunitions… as it made its way back to Russia.

‚ÄúArming of Russia by South Africa with the vessel‚Ķ is fundamentally unacceptable.‚ÄĚ

Mr Brigety added that senior US officials had ‚Äúprofound concerns‚ÄĚ about South Africa not respecting its professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality with regard to Russia‚Äôs war.

It is not the first time South Africa has been criticised for its cosy relationship with Russia.

Last month, a military aircraft owned by Aviacon Zitotrans, a Russian cargo airline sanctioned by the UK and US for its involvement in transporting weapons and components for the Russian army, landed at a South African air force base.

Kobus Marais, MP for the opposition DA party and shadow minister of defence and military affairs, described the plane using a South African military base as ‚Äúanother apparent and overt example of South Africa‚Äôs pro-Russia foreign policy‚ÄĚ.

Officially, South Africa has a position of non-alignment on the war in Ukraine, but the US in particular has been concerned about its increasingly close relations with Russia.

Earlier this year, Russian warships docked in South Africa for naval drills. The country has also invited Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to attend the Brics conference in Durban in August. This is despite South Africa being a signatory to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, which would compel the country to carry out the arrest warrant against Mr Putin.

The US ambassador’s accusation came less than two weeks after a South African delegation, led by Mr Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, headed to Washington to ease US concerns over its stance on Russia.

The fears in South Africa are that a strained relation with the US and the West will hit hard a struggling economy and threaten its place in Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a US law that gives duty- and quota-free access to the US market for selected African countries, including South Africa. The South African Rand dropped to a new low of R19.32 to the US dollar on Thursday.

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