On Thursday, May 11th, United States Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety falsely accused the South African government of supplying Russia with weapons. In a press conference, Ambassador Brigety said, “The arming of Russia by South Africa with the vessel that landed in Simon’s Town is fundamentally unacceptable.”
Brigety continued, “We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion. Given that, the deviation from South Africa’s policy of non-alignment by the actions of December 6 through December 8th are inexplicable.”
On December 7th, 2022, a Russian vessel docked in Simon’s Town. The cargo ship, named Lady R, did not have its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitting when it docked at South Africa’s biggest naval base. The ship was owned by Transmorflot prior to being rebranded as MG-FLOT. The Russian ownership had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury as early as May 2022 for their involvement in the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war. The company MG-FLOT, which is one of the seven firms sanctioned by the United States, had 16 cargo vessels blacklisted, one of which was Lady R.
Though the ship continued to trade in ports in India and West Africa, it turned off its AIS right before appearing in South Africa. Pole Star tracks the location of all oceanic vessels and with its AIS off, Pole Star was unable to track its location until eyewitness reports placed it in Simon’s Town.
On Saturday, May 13th, Clayson Monyela, the spokesman for the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, posted on Twitter saying Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor had met with Ambassador Brigety. In the meeting, Brigety reportedly apologized for his accusations. When invited to show evidence to back his claims, Brigety was unable to produce anything concrete that proves South Africa supplied Russia with weapons. Monyela said that in the meeting, they “reaffirmed the commitment to continue working to enhance the existing cordial, strong, and mutually beneficial relations between the two countries.”
Monyela said, “The relations between our two countries are strategic and far too important.”
Following the meeting with Minister Pandor, Brigety said, “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Foreign Minister Pandor this evening and correct any misimpressions left by my public remarks. In our conversation, I re-affirmed the strong partnership between our two countries and the important agenda our Presidents have given us.”
On Monday, May 15th, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement, reiterating that “South Africa will not take sides in a contest between global powers.”
President Ramaphosa said, “With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict…there has been extraordinary pressure on the country to abandon its non-aligned position and take sides in what is in effect a contest between Russia and the West. Other countries on the African continent and elsewhere have been put under similar pressure.” He continued, “As a country, we are committed to the articles of the United Nations Charter, including the principle that all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means….We do not accept that our non-aligned position favors Russia above other countries. Nor do we accept that it should imperil our relations with other countries.”
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