Political parties have gone to ideological war over the United States of America’s allegations that South Africa supplied Russia with weapons to fight against the Ukrainian army. At a hastily convened media briefing in Pretoria yesterday, US Ambassador to SA Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of supplying Russia with weapons.
However, Brigety did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claims, only saying he was “confident” about his assertions and that he could bet with his life. He claimed that the country had violated its neutrality stance by allegedly arming Russia. The US Ambassador said they got intelligence that a Russian ship which docked at Simon’s Town in the Western Cape during a naval drill between SA, Russia and China in December had left with weapons.
“There are a series of issues which suggest that in practice the government of SA is not non-aligned. Amongst the things we noticed were the docking of the Russian cargo ship in Simon’s Town between December 6 and 8, 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons, ammunitions onto that vessel as it made its way back to Russia,” Brigety said.
“There is already a requirement that no recipient of AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) can take actions which are directly and contrary to the security interests of the United States of America. We also know there has been a precedent set under South African constitutional law, domestically, following the failure to arrest Omar Al Bashir who was indicted by the ICC when he came to South Africa in December 2015. So, as we look at this situation from a distance we do not understand. The legal process seems to be clear. We don’t understand why the government of South Africa would not publicly and possibly commit to the obligations it has taken upon itself.”
He added that America was concerned about South Africa’s articulations of the BRICS bloc – an economic bloc comprising SA, Russia, India, Brazil and China – as a “counter” to the G7, a US led economic bloc which has dominated the world economy for decades. South Africa is due to host the upcoming Brics Summit in August at which the bloc is expected to admit new members as part of plans to expand it into a Brics Plus.
Russian President Vladmir Putin has been invited to the summit despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing a warrant of arrest against him a few weeks ago, in what has been seen by many as an attempt by the West to block him and interfere with the summit’s agenda.
“Our officials have expressed serious concerns about the articulations of Brics as, i quote, a counter to the G7, which does not sound like non-alignment or neutrality to us. Of course South Africa is free to choose its diplomatic partners however it chooses. And so is the United States of America. This is not a matter of bullying, as I often hear, it’s not a matter of threatening. This is how any relationship works.”
However, Brigety’s claims seem to have rubbed many the wrong way. The EFF leader Julius Malema said America was just a “crybaby” who sought to bully and punish South Africa for its neutral position on the Ukraine war. He insisted that there was no way the South African government could manage to equip the mighty Russian military with weapons, adding Brigety’s claims were an attempt by the USA to pressure South Africa not to allow Putin in the country.
“The Americans’ concerns are misplaced. The current government has no capacity to empower Russians with weapons against their own handlers. The concerns of America in relation to South Africa’s posture in the war between Russia and Ukraine are unfounded.
“We’ve got a long-standing relationship with Russia when it was still under the Soviet Union. Russia has helped us to be where we are. We will not be dictated to by the USA in terms of who becomes our friends. I don’t think there is anything we should be worried about,” said Malema.
Malema added that Brigety’s claims would make sense if Russia supplied Russia with weapons.
“There is no one with such capacity in South Africa who can supply Russia with weapons. If anything, it is the other way around. If the president is saying he is going to investigate, we will hear what the outcomes are,” Malema said. “America is just becoming a crybaby trying to find a way to punish South Africa because of our position on the Russia-Ukraine war. Equally, (they want) to put more pressure with regard to the BRICS conference because they want us not to allow President (Vladimir) Putin to come as an attempt to put pressure on South Africa.”
The EFF leader added that no African country had the capacity to execute the International Criminal Court’s warrant of arrest against Putin.
“He must come here and have his meetings and leave. We must sell South Africa to BRICS and Russia. We’ve got an energy crisis and Russia is in a better place to intervene with immediate effect to help South Africa,” he said.
International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela responded to questions on Twitter, where he said the presidency was best placed to respond to the allegations. Monyela said that behind the scenes discussions have already taken place between the US and SA governments.
“There’s been discussions between us and our USA colleagues on the subject, and an approach was agreed to. Megaphone diplomacy was not part of that. The presidency will announce a comprehensive response by the SA government. The presidency and the Department of Defence are handling the file,” Monyela said.
The DA said even though it had not seen any evidence, it believed Brigety and the USA. It accused South Africa of trying to alienate “key trade partners.” DA parliamentary spokesperson on finance, Dion George, said destroying SA’s relationship with the USA would lead the country down a disastrous path.
“By supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia, the ANC is threatening to devastate South Africa’s already vulnerable economy. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is up for renewal in 2025 and billions of dollars in aid is also at risk.
“AGOA, a lifeline for our economic survival, underpins trade worth approximately R50 billion annually, supporting substantial economic activity across critical sectors including automotive, manufacturing, and agriculture industries,” said Dion. “In the crosshairs of possible US retaliation, South Africa stands to lose more than just AGOA. Our actions as a perceived direct military supplier to Russia contravenes one of the fundamental conditions for trade with the US.”