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Why SA is unlikely to give US Ambassador Reuben Brigety the boot over Lady R saga

Why SA is unlikely to give US Ambassador Reuben Brigety the boot over Lady R saga
US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety. (Photo: Flickr) | South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

Despite calls from members of the ANC and SA Communist Party for the US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety, to be recalled or expelled over the Lady R saga, it appears he will almost certainly remain in his position.

The South African government is convinced that it is not necessary to take action against the US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety, as it deems its relationship with Washington to be of great value, according to Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) sources. 

Daily Maverick understands that the sentiment is that the dispute over the Lady R has been amicably resolved and that Pretoria wants to maintain its cordial relations with the US. Their stance is that the démarche Brigety faced following his utterances, and his subsequent apology, helped to smooth geopolitical tension.

“The President sent a delegation of no more than two special envoys to the US and they engaged with key stakeholders, so that is how serious[ly] we take the relations between us and the US. We think we found one another with the US and we will continue to foster our mutually beneficial relations between the two countries because they are that important,” a source said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa embarks on attempted ‘course correction’ of SA’s Russia stance

Maintaining diplomatic ties is especially important since South Africa is hosting the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) forum in November. The US is an important trade, investment, development assistance, tourism and technology partner for South Africa. For several years, the US has ranked in SA’s top three trade and investment partners, alongside China and Germany.

Another key issue raised by Dirco insiders was that it is not the right time to make decisions of this magnitude as South Africa has not yet replaced its ambassador to the US after Nomaindia Mfeketo stepped down from the position in July because of ill health.

The expulsion of an ambassador is also believed to only be necessary in exceptional cases and usually leads to discord between countries, which South Africa cannot afford. 

US embassy spokesperson David Feldmann this week said President Joe Biden still has “full confidence” in Brigety.

Lady R report at odds with Brigety’s claims

Calls for Brigety’s removal by the ANC and the SA Communist Party (SACP) come after the release of the executive summary of a panel report into the Lady R saga, which found that Brigety’s assertions about South Africa supplying weapons to Russia were incorrect. 

Brigety opened a can of worms in May when he publicly announced that the US was “confident” that South Africa had loaded weapons and ammunition aboard the Russian cargo ship, which was under US sanctions.

Brigety told journalists in Pretoria 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 on Ukraine.

This led to President Cyril Ramaphosa commissioning Judge Phineas Mojapelo to investigate the matter.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Lady R executive summary report: Nothing to see here, folks

The summary disputed Brigety’s assertions and found that the available evidence only confirmed the unloading of cargo, while there was nothing pointing to anything being loaded.

The equipment that was unloaded, the specifics of which have been kept confidential by the panel, was a delivery for the South African National Defence Force. It was ordered through Armscor in 2018 from a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2018 but the delivery was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While the panel’s findings vindicated South Africa, there are still unanswered questions about the UAE’s involvement in the shipment and the Lady R switching off its Automatic Identification System transponder before entering Simon’s Town and conducting its operations under the cover of darkness

Ramaphosa, when announcing the findings of the panel, said, “The allegations levelled against our country had a damaging effect on our currency, economy and our standing in the world.”

Calls for Brigety to be axed

The ANC’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, along with the party’s international relations subcommittee deputy chair, Obed Bapela, have been leading the charge for Brigety to fall on his sword. 

Mbalula last month said the accusations were a political strategy to restrain Russia and China. Bapela told the SABC that the allegations made by Brigety had grave consequences for South Africa, including the rand weakening. 

On 6 September, the SACP issued a statement saying there were valid grounds to expel Brigety.

“The SACP reiterates its call for the imperialist United States ambassador to South Africa, Dr Reuben E. Brigety II, to go. Dr Brigety baselessly accused South Africa of supporting Russia’s Special Military Operation with weapons in the NATO provoked war in Ukraine. 

“In defence of our democratic national sovereignty, the SACP reiterates its call that South Africa must expel Dr Brigety as a matter of urgency. The SACP supports our government’s peaceful and non-aggressive approach to seek an end to the [Russia-Ukraine] war.” DM

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  • Ben Harper says:

    Everyone knows the report is a total farce, just like the anc government. The anc cannot afford to upset the yanks more than they already have as the know the AGOA benefits are already under threat. It’s also time the sacp shut up and disappear, they are a non-entity, have never contributed a single thing to the country and have never stood as a party at all, they’re irrelevant

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Of course they have backed down in a most cowardly fashion. If we look at the other alternative: if Mbalula and the other gangsters have their way, guess who speaks out and tells the truth first? “Let’s just shut up now because if he and the USA talk, we’ll be exposed for the fraudsters that we are.” (Never mind the further damage to our countywide economy and infrastructure.)

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    It is very simple really. The rotten anc is false, hypocritical and completely devoid of morals and integrity. The statement by DIRCO, another useless and hypocritical government department, headed by clueless and over-paid morons, that they value their relationship with the US is just deception and misinformation when all your actions are to the contrary. The reality is that anc wants trade, investments, handouts and their begging bowls filled from the US and the West whilst giving them the middle finger and are firmly in the camp of all the worst human rights abusers and murderers. I have no doubt that Brigety can prove his claim on the Lady R (better to move on after the pathetic whitewashing charade) and all the spineless Cyril is doing is speedily backtracking in order to save AGOA, handouts etc. This is the nature of the anc beast that we all know. As for the SACP, nothing but a pathetic, irrelevant and failed party and communist system. The pathetic leaders of this party don’t have the guts to stand on their own but would rather hide behind the abominable anc and participate in the rape of this land. Talk about not having the courage of their convictions and of their loud mouths!

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