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‘Aggressive push’ to expel US ambassador from SA as government data shows no weapons exports to Russia

‘Aggressive push’ to expel US ambassador from SA as government data shows no weapons exports to Russia
Ambassador Reuben Brigety and President Cyril Ramaphosa are seen in this undated photo. (Photo: Flickr)

The South African government maintains that its own data shows there have been no exports to Russia since at least 2018.

US ambassador Reuben Brigety has already been “demarched” and severely censured by Pretoria but now there is an ‘aggressive push’ to go further by expelling him from the country, Daily Maverick has learnt. But for the ANC, the situation is complicated by the fact that he’s African American and it is worried about the optics of expulsion.  

Daily Maverick also understands that the government maintains that its own data shows that South Africa has exported no weapons to Russia since at least 2018.

The ambassador told journalists in May that Washington was confident that weapons and ammunition had been loaded onto the sanctioned Russian cargo vessel Lady R, which docked in Simon’s Town, Cape Town between 6 and 9 December 2022. His explosive allegations at the time sent the rand to three-year lows against the dollar and prompted renewed concerns about South Africa’s Agoa status.

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

Brigety said he was “confident” weapons were uploaded to the Lady R as it made its way back to Russia, “which does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country”.

An independent panel chaired by a retired judge has concluded its investigation into the Lady R and City Press has reported via sources that it found that no weapons were loaded onto the ship.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Independent panel completes investigation into Lady R’s Simon’s Town sojourn

The findings of the report have not yet been made public, and may never be released publicly.

Pretoria denies that it sent any weapons to Moscow on the ship and the government’s trade data shows that no weapons have been exported to Russia from South Africa since at least 2018.

The allegations about the Lady R, the joint naval exercises in South African waters with Russia and China in February which coincided with the 1st anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and other instances of Pretoria’s growing ties with Russia, have been a diplomatic thorn in South Africa’s relations with Washington as Pretoria scrambles to retain its status as a beneficiary of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act. This provides preferential access to US markets for exports of various products from qualifying African countries. Some US Congressional leaders have called on the Biden administration to review SA’s participation in Agoa because of its friendship with Moscow.

Agoa accounts for about 2% of South Africa’s total exports, mostly vehicles, but the government sees it also as a “signal” of a special trade relationship that can be built on. And while South Africa accounts for only a trickle of US trade, it is of critical importance on some fronts, providing America with 39% of the rhodium and 46% of the palladium used as emissions-capping catalysts in automobiles.

Daily Maverick understands that the Lady R allegations and the joint naval operations were major concerns flagged by US government officials when a South African delegation visited America in July to make the case for retaining South Africa’s status in Agoa.

The blowback against Brigety comes as no surprise, although there are other views in the ANC government that are opposed to taking action against him.

Daily Maverick has previously reported that the talons were out for him among pro-Russian hawks in the ANC. 

Read more in Dail Maverick: Pro-Russia hawks in ANC likely to push back against US after ambassador’s outburst

Amid this unfolding diplomatic drama, at least Putin will be a now-show at the BRICS summit later this month. Among other things, analysts had flagged his possible presence as a potential blow to the rand, which has lost ground again this month. At the end of July it was trading at 17.88/dlr and was fetching 18.88/dlr at midday on Tuesday — a significant decline in the space of just over a week.

The currency and other markets are hyper-alert to South Africa’s diplomatic dance, and further missteps may prove costly. 

But if Pretoria decided it no longer wanted Brigety as the US ambassador to South Africa, it would merely have to notify Washington which would be obliged to recall him.  The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that;  

“The receiving State (in this case South Africa)  may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State (in this case the US)  that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. 

“In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission…”

“If the sending State refuses or fails within a reasonable period to carry out its obligations under paragraph 1 of this article, the receiving State may refuse to recognize the person concerned as a member of the mission.” 

But if the procedure for getting rid of a US ambassador may be easy, the implications for relations with Washington would be the real calculation. 

Last week Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told journalists that the investigation into the Lady R controversy had been concluded and that the investigating panel’s report would be completed by close of business on Friday (4 August) and would be handed over to the president as soon as his schedule permitted. “Once the president has consumed the report he will then decide on the actions to be followed as guided by the report and on the aspects of the report that will be made public,” he said.

Asked again on Tuesday if there was any update, Magwenya replied that Ramaphosa had not yet received the report.

When asked to comment about a push against Brigety, Magwenya referred Daily Maverick to an earlier response by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor. When asked if any actions would be taken against Brigety in the light of reports that the inquiry had not found any evidence of weapons being loaded, she responded. “Perhaps once we have looked at that report we might determine what further action might be considered by government. I’ve not seen the report and it’s not been in any formal meeting of government that I have attended.” DM

This article has been amended to include reference to the fact that there is no consensus in the ANC government about a push to expel Brigety.

Additional Reporting by Peter Fabricius


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Franz Rabe says:

    “The South African government maintains that its own data shows there have been no exports to Russia since at least 2018.”

    If ever a statement by our meticulous and play-it-by-the-book government/ANC meant diddly squat.

    Being loaded on AND off…

  • quinton says:

    Just because the Ambassador is African American why should this change the optics! It is ridiculous….

  • Lindy Nauta Nauta says:

    What WAS loaded onto the Lady R then, during the night if I remember correctly?

  • Mark Gory Gory says:

    Publish the findings

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Well. I’m now completely confident that no weapons were loaded. The South African government’s OWN data is proof positive. Also, that good governance is a prominent feature of ANC rule. That I will mail a cheque that will be delivered, safely & on time. That I can fly, wherever, on Africa’s best airline, or even take a train, in comfort, on Africa’s best rail network. All these things, as soon as I flick my light switch, with power from Africa’s best energy grid, to find my specs, and take a long, thirst-quenching drink of potable water flowing from my tap. These things are backed up by the faith in the South African government’s OWN data. I must say: I’m quite relieved!

  • Pierre Cornelissen says:

    Who can believe the report? What did the ship do in Simonstown? I cannot believe there are no video surveillance in this regard. Just have a look at the BRICS summit, what did they really discuss – selling Africa to the Chinese and Russia? And with this, I cannot believe there were no tapping into their conversations…

    • Pagani Paganini says:

      The tragedy is that you are prepared to believe the report because it seems it doesn’t support your preconceived conclusions. Yet the very same ambassador couldn’t back up his claims with evidence and his government has not come out backing him.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Of course it wasn’t exports to Russia – it was imports FROM Russia… 9000 red tee shirts and berets for the eff birthday bash!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Everyone seen the Australian SkyNews clip on the eff birthday bash and reports of our recent farm murders?? Be afraid…be very afraid! Shades of 1934 and Hitlers rise in popularity- startling deja vu!

  • David Katz says:

    The big assumption is that people have faith and believe these commissions that all seem to find in the ANC’s favor. The ANC is still allowing tender corruption, fraud and crime take place on a daily basis. They have corrupted the government and state and they corrupted the word “ Truth “.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    What a load of nonsense. Typical of the devious and crooked anc! A secret report and secret findings. The fact that this was not done openly just shows that they have everything to hide and have been caught out. The anc can fool their own brain-dead followers, but anyone with any intelligence wouldn’t believe such deception and lies. They have learnt well from their communist and Putin propaganda masters. I have no doubt that the ambassador is 100% correct.

  • Anthony Sturges says:

    Well there you are, the accused investigating himself and finding himself not guilty. The ANC doing what it does best – good transparent governance! 😒

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The Report Which No-One Has Seen 😎 Great strategy.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    A ship, on an international list of “blacked” ships, arrives at a military port facility, at midnight and offloads and uploads four containers of “stuff”.

    The report into this activity is eventually investigated, but none of the findings have, or will be made public.

    These are the “optics”, Mr President. In short it stinks, and the US Ambassador was quite right to draw attention to this and to draw the only inference that any aware, sentient person could, and that is that this ANC government, or sectors within the ANC that this government cannot, or will not control – remember July 2021 – were nefariously trading with Russian forces.

  • Lawrence Sisitka says:

    Of course the whole thing is a farce: all Ramaphosa had to do was ask, or indeed order those responsible to tell him what they loaded onto the ship, and then share the information with us. The notion of a panel of inquiry was absolute nonsense from the beginning. So we always knew that whatever was revealed would be equally worthless. But now, of course we can stick it to the Yanks by kicking out their ambassador and in this way butter up to our dear friend in the Kremlin, so everyone’s happy 🙂

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    and we are really expected to believe a South African secret inquiry? Duh

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    Surely now would be the time for the Ambassador to release some intelligence of his own? But in the world of “bigger issues” diplomacy will triumph and he will most likely be recalled instead. The bruhaha in “Pretoria” is laughable.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    What struck me about the whole affair was a Minister saying with certainty that no ‘ South African ‘ arms , from Denel were on board .
    Which struck me as rather strange , until recently , when my cousin gave his opinion .
    SA was just returning Russian made AK47 s and ammunition confiscated from SWAPO and others .
    As far as I know munitions made here would not work in Russia .
    That said , what happened to the tonnes of ammo that just ‘ disappeared ”
    CR quickly went from open and transparent to ‘ For my eyes only ‘
    Will he claim ‘ In the interests of national security’ ?
    Will he explain how a sanctioned vessel docked at a ‘ Strategic Key Point’ must have had clearance from someone up the ladder .
    Whatever got loaded was either in the harbour or very close by .
    Frankly , the whole ‘ report ‘ is a whitewash .
    Cannot believe he was out of the loop for something like this .
    Lady R was not just passing by , took many weeks just to get here .
    And who paid all the wharfage fees , how was fuel paid for ?
    Wonder what the port management thought when they heard what was going to happen ?

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    It merely demonstrates that neither the ANC nor all its braindead supporters can be trusted with anything. The US should teach SA a lesson by yanking out AGOA seeing as the ANC and so many of its minions don’t like or trust the US. Naturally the losers in SA don’t like the US because it shows the world how truly pathetic, corrupt and incompetent SA, its government and its peoples are.

    • John Smythe says:

      Nice notion. But the reality is that many people will lose their businesses and jobs. The ANC is caught between a rock and a hard place. Friends (they think) vs. Tangible reality. A grand stuff up that only they can conjure.

  • André Pelser says:

    This article is hogwash, like the Lady R report.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Sorry: since when have we ever been able to trust “government data”? Liars and thieves, down to the very last one of them.

  • James S. Henry says:

    RSA is truly on a roll. Go ahead — keep the report secret but expel the US Ambassador. Remit Jacob Zuma + 9487 other convicts from jail because of “overcrowding.” Invite the Guptas back from Dubai for a victory parade, staunch the investigation of x Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s recent death, and sell more “food” to war criminals like Putin? The country has a very exciting future! But US aid + investment will be “AGOAing” elsewhere. Thanks for the memories.

  • Tee Mo says:

    I mean if the SA GOVERNMENT says it then heavens forfend. It must be true. I, for one, can not think of a single instance when this government’s integrity was ever called into question.

  • Smudger Smiff says:

    Apparently, Moscowvites have become addicted to Mrs Ball’s Chutney where its known as ‘tickle’ or in Russian ‘poshchekotat’ svoye voobrazheniye’ – tickle your fancy.
    It was this delicacy that was loaded on the Lady R – clandestinly to avoid a diplomatic incident.
    All toether a more plausible explanation, dont you think?

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