“South African Concerns Skyrocket as US Considers Supplying Arms to Russia?”
The United States has thrown South Africans into a state of fury and bewilderment after accusing their country of covertly sending weapons to Russia. This explosive allegation prompted the government to issue a rebuke and announce an investigation. US Ambassador Reuben Brigety claimed with confidence that weapons and ammunition had been loaded onto a Russian cargo ship docked at a naval base in Cape Town. President Cyril Ramaphosa responded angrily to the accusations and appointed a retired judge to lead the investigation. While the US welcomed the move, locals reacted with a mixture of scorn and confusion, with many questioning why the government was clueless about the matter. Political and economic analyst Daniel Silke suggested that the government was suffering from “information confusion.” The Lady R, a Western-sanctioned Russian-flagged cargo ship, was docked in South Africa’s largest naval base in December to officially unload an old ammunition order. However, Ambassador Brigety possessed intelligence that weapons had been loaded onto the ship before it set off towards Russia.
The popular morning radio show host, Bongani Bingwa, wrote on Twitter, asking, “Did we or didn’t we? And if we did, shouldn’t the president know?” As investigations commence, the United States accuses South Africa of being “disingenuous,” as if confirmed, this would mark a divergence from South Africa’s supposed neutrality during the conflict in Ukraine. South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party expressed disappointment that the investigation was underway, with lawmaker Kobus Marais insisting that the president and secretary of defense should be fully apprised of what occurred. South Africa has been walking a diplomatic tightrope regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nation has refrained from condemning the situation and opted for dialogue instead. While Pretoria has had strong economic and trade relations with the US and Europe, its trade relations with Russia are much less significant. However, South Africa and Moscow have strong ties that date back to the apartheid era when the Kremlin supported the African National Congress (ANC) party.
US Ambassador Brigety’s remarks prompted a diplomatic altercation just hours after his briefing with the media. Ramaphosa criticized the comments for undermining “the spirit of cooperation and partnership” between the two nations. The Foreign Ministry denounced Brigety’s statements, with Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor expected to speak to US officials in Washington later. Meanwhile, concerns grow for South Africa’s struggling economy, which could spiral downward if relations with the US worsen. Analysts warn that South Africa has little to gain from a fight with Washington but everything to lose. The row has already had an impact on the country’s economy, with the rand plummeting against the dollar to reach its lowest point in three years on Thursday. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows African countries tariff-free access to the US market for goods that meet certain standards, might be at stake as some fear that the US might revoke South Africa’s aid and support. Silke stressed that the economy was already “very vulnerable,” with almost no growth and limited domestic demand. “South African exporters… desperately need their products to be sold on international shelves,” he said.