Johannesburg, South Africa – Diplomatic tensions have escalated as the United States ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety II, accused the South African government of facilitating the delivery of arms and ammunition to a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel. The allegations, made during a media briefing, have stirred controversy and prompted demands for an independent inquiry into the matter.
According to local media reports, Ambassador Reuben Brigety II expressed concern over the docking of a cargo ship, identified as the ‘Lady R,’ at the Simon’s Town naval base in December 2022. The ambassador claimed that the vessel was used to upload weapons and ammunition before its return journey to Russia. In a video released by Newzroom Afrika, Ambassador Brigety asserted his confidence in the accuracy of the assertion, stating, “We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on that assertion.”
The arrival of the ‘Lady R’ at the naval base caused significant speculation as cargo vessels typically dock at Cape Town’s civilian harbor, not the naval facility. Opposition member of parliament and shadow Defense Minister Kobus Marais raised concerns about the ship’s activities, asserting that goods were both offloaded and loaded onto the vessel during the overnight hours. These suspicions prompted demands for answers from the government.
In response to the allegations, the South African presidency described them as “disappointing” and warned that such remarks could undermine the spirit of cooperation between the US and South African government officials who were already engaged in discussions on the matter. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office released a statement stating that no evidence had been provided to support the allegations. It further announced the government’s intention to establish an independent inquiry into the matter.
The South African presidency spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, explained the need for an inquiry, stating that the US intelligence services had offered evidence that would only be shared through a credible investigation. The goal is to ascertain the factual details of the situation rather than engaging in a cycle of accusations and denials that could harm bilateral relations.
The public accusations made by the US ambassador against the South African government are unusual, further intensifying the diplomatic strain between the two nations. South Africa’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already drawn criticism, with the government facing scrutiny for abstaining from UN General Assembly votes condemning Russia.
In February of this year, South Africa conducted naval war games involving the Russian and Chinese military off its coast. Additionally, the country is set to host the BRICS summit, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, later this year. The invitation extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the summit has raised eyebrows.
South African officials have faced criticism for their fluctuating commitment to the Rome Statute, a treaty that obliges signatory nations to arrest individuals indicted by the International Criminal Court. The country’s position became the subject of scrutiny after Putin was indicted for alleged war crimes in March. Although South Africa has historical ties with Russia and the former Soviet Union, the European Union and the United States remain its major trading partners.
As calls for an independent inquiry grow louder, South Africa finds itself at the center of a diplomatic controversy that could have far-reaching implications for its international relationships and its position on the global stage. The inquiry will be crucial in unraveling the truth behind the allegations and addressing the concerns raised by the US ambassador.