By A Correspondent- The United States envoy to South Africa said on Thursday he was confident that a Russian ship had picked up weapons in South Africa, in a possible breach of Pretoria’s declared neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.
The rand and South Africa’s 2030 government bond extended losses after the U.S. statement as currency traders said they were worried that South Africa could now face Western sanctions.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa did not confirm or deny the shipment took place but said his government was looking into the matter, when an opposition leader asked him about the issue in parliament.
The U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, told local journalists in a briefing earlier on Thursday that Washington was confident a Russian vessel had uploaded weapons and ammunition from South Africa in December.
“Amongst the things we noted were the docking of the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town between Dec. 6 and Dec. 8, 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons, ammunitions … as it made its way back to Russia,” Brigety said.
“Arming of Russia by South Africa with the vessel… is fundamentally unacceptable,” Brigety said, adding that senior U.S. officials had “profound concerns” about South Africa not respecting its professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality with regard to Russia’s war.
This “does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country”, he said in a recording of the briefing heard by Reuters.
Washington has repeatedly warned countries against providing material support to Russia, cautioning that those who do may be denied access to the world’s most important markets.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. embassy in South Africa and the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.
Brigety made the remarks to journalists following his return to Pretoria after accompanying a high-level South African delegation to the United States to address concerns about South Africa’s relationship with Russia.
“The matter is being looked into and in time we will be able to speak about it,” Ramaphosa told lawmakers in parliament. A spokesperson for South Africa’s presidency said it would issue a statement later.
South Africa conducted joint naval exercises with Russia and China in February – calling it routine – which the U.S. and other Western powers expressed concern about at the time.
U.S. Ambassador Brigety said on Thursday that the naval drills and other issues, in addition to the arms shipment, had contributed to concerns about South Africa’s allegiance.
South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies on a continent divided over its invasion of Ukraine, but it has maintained it is impartial on the conflict and has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions on the war.