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US ambassador lashes out at ANC government for ‘providing arms and ammunition to Russia’

US ambassador lashes out at ANC government for ‘providing arms and ammunition to Russia’
Russian cargo ship Lady R docked in Simon’s Town naval harbour in December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

After months of silence about the Russian vessel which docked in Simon’s Town, the Presidency’s solution to the quagmire is an independent inquiry to be led by a retired judge.

The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has rocked US relations with South Africa by publicly announcing that the US is “confident” that the South African government uploaded weapons and ammunition on to the Russian cargo ship Lady R in the Simon’s Town naval harbour last December.

Brigety told journalists in Pretoria on Thursday that the loading of arms and ammunition for Russia was “fundamentally unacceptable” and contradicted South Africa’s professed non-aligned status in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

us anc russia

The Russian cargo ship Lady R leaves Simon’s Town naval harbour. (Photo: Supplied)

Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, told Daily Maverick she was requesting an urgent meeting with South Africa’s minister of defence and veterans, Thandi Modise, about Brigety’s bombshell announcement.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA set to démarche US ambassador on bombshell Russian ammunition accusations 

“We are confident that weapons were loaded on to that vessel,” Brigety told journalists in Pretoria.

Rand nosedives

His accusation appeared to have pushed the rand to a three-year low against the US dollar at R19.32/$, and heightened existing concerns that the US might punish South Africa for its support of Russia, possibly by cutting its trade privileges under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

President Cyril Ramaphosa did not deny Brigety’s accusation when questioned in Parliament on Thursday. “The matter is being looked into, and in time we’ll be able to speak about it,” he said.

Ramaphosa was responding to questions from DA leader John Steenhuisen, who said Brigety’s announcement, “suggests that the ANC government is actively arming Russian soldiers, and you are murdering and maiming innocent people — not only in Ukraine but also across the African continent”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cloak and dagger — the infamous nights Simon’s Town became Vladimir Putin’s town

Brigety had said he hoped Pretoria would respond “wholesomely” to the US concerns, so the two countries could focus on strengthening relations.

But on Thursday evening, the Presidency hit back at Brigety.

“The Ambassador’s remarks undermine the spirit of cooperation and partnership that characterised the recent engagements between US government officials and a South African official delegation led by National Security Special Advisor to the President Dr Sydney Mufumadi,” the Presidency said in a statement.

In the statement, issued just before 7pm, Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said that while allegations had been made about the purpose of the Russian vessel, “no evidence has been provided to support these allegations”.

The Presidency’s solution to the diplomatic quagmire was “an independent enquiry to be led by a retired judge”.

“In recent engagements between the South African delegation and US officials, the Lady R matter was discussed and there was agreement that an investigation will be allowed to run its course and that the US intelligence services will provide whatever evidence [is] in their possession.

“It is therefore disappointing 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,” said Magwenya.

Read more in Daily Maverick: State Defence, SANDF silent in face of speculation Lady R was shipping Russian weaponry

Earlier on Thursday, when contacted by Daily Maverick for comment, Department of Defence officials were seemingly unaware of the accusations that had caused a rupture in relations between the US and South Africa. Minister Modise’s spokesperson, Cornelius Monama, said he did not know anything about the issue.

Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela on Twitter, did not deny Brigety’s accusation:

Brigety was briefing journalists after returning from Washington, where he went because of the mission to the US capital by Mufamadi at the head of a government delegation to meet US administration, congressional and business leaders to try to mend deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Gap between rhetoric and reality

The ambassador said US officials had told Mufamadi they had seen a “profound… observable gap between the rhetoric and reality of the government’s professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality”.

This was evident not only in the loading of weapons and ammunition on to the Lady R, but also in the timing of the joint naval exercise which South Africa held with Russia and China in February this year, “which coincided with the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

“There were other issues that from our perspective suggest the absence of non-alignment but these were by far the most serious that we raised as a matter of great concern.”

The other main issue that US officials had raised with Mufamadi was the “evident hostility of the ruling African National Congress towards the United States of America”, Brigety said. He cited the ANC international relations policy decisions of December 2022, which basically said Russia was fighting not Ukraine but Nato, led by the US.

Brigety said these remarks were “outrageous, patently false and incorrect”. And it was even more disturbing that the ANC policy document had said nothing about the value which the ANC places on Agoa, and on Pepfar  — through which the US has provided billions of dollars of help to SA in fighting Aids — or about US investment in South Africa or about the values which the US and SA shared as democracies. 

Brigety also noted that Agoa was a unique trade agreement as it was the only one which South Africa had which gave it duty-free and quota-free access to another market without requiring it to reciprocate by giving that country similar access to its market.

Brigety’s belief that SA provided arms and ammunition to Russia, if proven, could jeopardise South Africa’s continued enjoyment of some or all of the benefits of Agoa.

‘It’s like treason’

The DA’s Shadow Minister for Defence, Kobus Marais, told Daily Maverick on Thursday: “We have to take this very seriously. In my opinion, the US have probably got the intelligence operations and if their intelligence is confirming this then we have to act very seriously on this.”

He said the ruling party’s hand in the supply of arms to Russia was “not in the best interest of our economy, and the growth potential and collaboration potential with the US and the European Union.

“It will be unacceptable if the ANC will compromise the best interests of South Africa, to favour the best financial interests of the ANC. That is unforgivable. That’s like treason. South Africa should reject that with the contempt it deserves.”

This week, Marais submitted a request to the government under the Promotion of Access to Information Act for the Department of Defence to provide him with a manifest of the goods that were uploaded and offloaded by the Lady R in Simon’s Town, as well as copies of import and export permit approvals. He asked for similar information about the sanctioned Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft which recently landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mark Cowell says:

    Where is Wally? (Cyril)

  • David Amato says:

    PR disaster of note. A commission of enquiry is another term for bury the evidence.

  • Sarel Van Der Walt says:

    South Africa produce arms in accordance with US/UK standards, i.e. Nato standards. There is fairly reliable sources who reported that SA have been selling 155mm artillery shells to Nato/G7 countries who then fwd them to Ukraine. I guess we should also stop supplying Nato (& thus Ukraine) with artillery shells then too???

    • Johan Buys says:

      Sarel: The russians now also use 155mm howitzer rounds – they get their 152mm soviet area rounds from North Korea and Iran. China has so far refused to supply putin artillery but likely putin is drawing from Syria too. So we’re in great company :/

      As to your proposal : Russia is the aggressor, not Ukraine – there is a huge difference. I’m no sure whether we supply Nato with 155mm rounds but they don’t need ours as they have stockpiles of literally millions. Just South Korea had over a million. There is also the question of international sanctions. But hey, we makes our choices and we takes our chances and must then also face the consequences. We can only hope that sanctions target ANC officials and their families personally, their companies and offshore wealth, middlemen, the SOE and not the general population.

  • Grant S says:

    The cANCer is now ACTIVELY destroying this once-hopeful nation.

    Fanning the flames as the house burns to the ground.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    If the Russians are really serious about destroying Ukraine they should just send the ANC to run it for a few months, and to shorten the time frames maybe add the Epic FFail as government advisers.

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      It is certainly no surprise that the US government is reacting in this way, the ANC government’s actions have ever more blatantly indicated support for Russia, and they have adopted this reckless approach at the cost of South Africa’s interests. Another self-inflicted disaster from the government, which yet again we all will pay dearly for, while the party and cadres benefit personally. Announcing an inquiry into what happened in Somons Town is a joke and yet another waste of money. The government knows exactly what happened, and just want to somehow continue to obfuscate.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The ANC doesn’t know about satellite spying,but then what do they know, but only how to steal

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Why is anyone even vaguely surprised or shocked? These criminals who masquerade as our govt. are devoid of any morals or intelligence & have always placed their own nefarious interests above the interests of the country and its citizens.

    These imbeciles want a commission of enquiry to investigate what? This is beyond ridiculous & absurd.
    The approval for this weapons sale could only have come from Cyril & his cabinet.

    Stupidity, arrogance & greed, a most lethal combination.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    My immediate observation is, if it is true SA supplied weapons to russia which it used to bomb civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine, will SA be required to pay reparations to Ukraine and compensate families whose lives were destroyed by these acts a savagery.

  • Derek Jones says:

    And Ramaphosa is so out of touch with things he doesn’t even know whether SA sold or gave Russia arms!!?? Why doesn’t he know? Surely he does, it is a serious issue? If he really doesn’t know then it just proves he doesn’t know what is happening in the country he is president of. This situation is just downright laughably ludicrous. If he does know, and they did supply arms and or ammo , then that
    will be a horrible situation for us. Either way, South Africa has fallen to new depths of idiocy.

  • James Miller says:

    There can be only one explanation for this. Russia has stepped in to fill the gap in the ANC’s funding, left by a crackdown on corruption, and can therefore dictate terms. How else to explain the inexplicable? Cyril knows the answer to Steenhuisen’s question. His response is a slap in the face to all of us, and the actions of the ANC are a betrayal of the country. With a government like this, who needs enemies?

  • John Georgiou says:

    I find this very hard to believe and I think it can only be one of 3 scenarios:

    1. Denel is destroyed. Not so long ago they couldn’t even pay salaries, so how it is all of a sudden they’ve got weapons to sell ? You could argue they got them from China or Turkey but China and Turkey both share a land border with Russia – No need to involve these idiots.

    2. Russia is in more trouble than we thought if they have to buy weapons from SA.

    3. The ANC children have been outmaneuvered by the adults (American politicians) and this is payback for their tacit support of Russia. Anyone remember Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” BS ?

  • Dr Know says:

    I have to ask, what is it with all this cuddling up to Russia by the ruling party? It is unpopular and damaging to their ruling party and the economy as well as being the ethical malfeasance of selling guns to killers. (Not that selling guns to killers is a new thing in SA). The damage would, in my mind, far surpass any misplaced loyalty from past struggle support. What leverage has Russia got on our ruling party elites, could it be more cupboard-dwelling skeletons? (doubtful). Or could it be lots of lovely loot stashed in the motherland far from the prying eyes and raking claws of the west, and now linked to the futures of that country. Cash it all in and bet on Red, consequences be damned?

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Just think about the absurdity of the idea that a committee needs to investigate what was loaded onto the russian ship?

    Firstly this is a commercial ship. Secondly, it is sanctioned because of its history of transporting weapons for Wagner used to kill people in various parts of the world. Thirdly, it was travelling with its AIS switched off. Forth, the ship was not in distress.

    So it is clear the docking of the ship in Simonstown was planned. For a commercial ship to dock there will need approval. Being such an extraordinary situation, this would need the approval of at least the Minister of Defence and therefore the President.

    Because it is a commercial ship, any cargo on or off the ship would be subject to export or import permits and duties. Anybody getting on or off the ship would be subject to customs processing. But there are no such facilities in Simonstown. I must conclude therefore that the cargo was not commercial and therefore diplomatic. If the cargo was military in nature, it would need to be approved by Parliament.

    Ramaphosa is lying. He knows exactly what was put on that ship because he would have approved it, and unlawfully so since Parliament was not informed.

    Opposition parties need to file a motion of no confidence in this government. Things cannot go on while our President as head of the executive are breaking the law. Their actions are now endangering the livelihoods of millions of SAs. Parliament needs to act and now.

    • Lawrence Sisitka says:

      It has really all been said. The bottom line is that Ramaphosa must have known what the ship was doing here, and can only be establishing yet another commission of inquiry to further muddy the waters. A complete waste of yet more time and money with almost certainly no clear outcome. That the ANC is now looking to jump completely into Putin’s bed is beyond doubt, and any lingering respect for our non-president must now be completely extinguished. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are on our own, we have no government; actually even worse, we have a ghost government hell-bent on destroying anything of value in this beautiful country.

      • Anton van Niekerk says:

        The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is established in terms of its own statute and has to pre-approve all arms tansfers. It is a simple matter for Cyril to find out if any such permit was issued. The NCACC reports to cabinet, among others, so no need for a judge to establish the facts. The ANC is leading SA into yet another disaster, the only beneficiaries of which will be some fat cat cronies of the ANC regime.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Way, way back in the day, when I worked for the Progressive Party in the Colin Eglin, Helen Suzman et al era, part of my job was submitting opposition questions to the National Party government. As they became more authoritarian the answers were more frequently “It is not in the public interest to disclose this information.” I fear Kobus Marais may well have reached this point with the ANC, which has now become even more of a disaster for our country. Let us pray that there are sufficient numbers of the currently brain washed to wake up and vote this bunch into the nearest garbage bin.

  • Confucious Says says:

    What the US is actually saying is that they have HD satellite and other imagery of weapons being loaded onto the ship!

  • mark.etable15 says:

    Why is it so difficult ?
    An oversight committee in parliament should summon the minister of DIRCO along with the head of the Navy and his harbour master in SimonsTown and ask them what happened. Simple.
    Of course, when answering before an oversight committee they also have the opportunity then to lie to the SA public !

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