South Africa’s president says no evidence backing US allegations that arms were sold to Russia, promises inquiry

South Africa’s president says no evidence backing US allegations that arms were sold to Russia, promises inquiry
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in parliament on Thursday, declined to give details about what is known about the Russian vessel's activities / Government of South Africa
By bne IntelliNews May 12, 2023

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said there is no evidence to support US allegations that South Africa sent arms to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine but has promised an independent inquiry into the matter.

The allegations were raised by the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben E Brigety II, who said Washington was “confident” that both weapons and ammunition had been loaded onto a Russian ship called the “Lady R” in December from a South African port. 

“Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship in Simon’s Town naval base between the 6th to the 8th of December 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition onto that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russian,” he told local media.

“We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy on that assertion […] The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved, and we would like SA to [begin] practising its non-alignment policy.”

On Thursday (May 11), Ramaphosa declined to give details in his response to questions by opposition leader John Steenhuisen of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the National Assembly about US allegations regarding the “Lady R”.

“We are all aware of the news of Lady R and that whole matter, honourable Mr Steenhuisen, is being looked into,” the president said. “And while the process continues, I want you to allow that process to continue to reach its fruition.”

In December, opposition MP Kobus Marais, the shadow defence minister, said in a statement that goods were offloaded from the Russian ship and other goods onloaded during the wee hours of the morning, and demanded an explanation from the government.

South Africa has refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying it wants to remain neutral while championing dialogue as the means to end the conflict.

However, Western nations say the docking of the ship, along with a joint military exercise South Africa held with Russia and China in February 2023 and the landing of a sanctioned Russian military cargo plane in early May suggest the country may be leaning towards the Kremlin.

South Africa will, in August 2023, host a summit of the BRICS nations whose other members are Brazil, Russia, India and China. Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, slapped with an International Criminal Court (ICJ) arrest warrant in March for the Ukraine war, has accepted an invitation to the meeting. The host nation, a member of the ICJ, has been called upon to arrest him if he physically attends the summit.

The Democratic Alliance has accused the government of violating the country’s values and interests “in favour of a global warmonger and despot” and warned of “major consequences”.

“It means that our main investment and trading partners cannot trust us,” Marais, the shadow defence minister, told AFP this week. “This is … treasonous in terms of how they have compromised South Africa and our interests.