JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — It is perhaps one of the biggest diplomatic wranglings ever between the United States and South Africa, raising new questions on Friday, crashing the local currency market, threatening thousands of African jobs and still not providing definitive answers as to whether South Africa has allegedly gone “rogue state” and supplied weapons to Russia.
Reuben Brigety, the US ambassador to South Africa, was summoned to meet with South Africa’s international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, on Friday over Brigety’s claim that South Africa has supplied Russia with weapons.
In a news conference on Thursday, the US ambassador said weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian freighter at Simonstown, a naval base near Cape Town.
“We are confident that weapons were loaded on that vessel and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that claim,” Brigety told reporters. “The arming of the Russians is extremely serious and we do not believe this problem is solved. And we would like (South Africa) to start practicing its non-alignment policy.”
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Local currency markets plummeted on the news. On Friday, the rand fell to its lowest level against the US dollar on record after a South African government official tweeted: “The National Committee on Conventional Arms Control has no record of a state-approved arms sale at the Russia in relation to the period/incident in question.”
The tweet was posted by Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy at the Pretoria Department of International Relations.
Later, Monyela took to Twitter again, confirming that a meeting had taken place between her boss, Minister Naledi Pandor, and the US ambassador.
“We expressed our displeasure at his conduct and he admitted he crossed the line and apologized unreservedly,” Monyela wrote.
The ambassador then appeared eating the humble diplomatic pie, tweeting: “I have been grateful for the opportunity to speak with Foreign Secretary Pandor this evening and correct any impressions left by my public remarks. In our conversation, I reaffirmed the strong cooperation between our two countries and the important agenda that our presidents have given us.”
Asked for comment by Fox News Digital, the State Department directed Fox News Digital to the ambassador’s tweet.
Pandora also spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It is not known whether South Africa has filed a protest against the ambassador, but State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said during the meeting: “Secretary Blinken has emphasized the importance of the US-South Africa strategic partnership and has reaffirmed cooperation on shared priorities”.
Some of Pandora’s government colleagues went to Washington just under two weeks ago to try to persuade the United States not to cut trade incentives with South Africa over the Pretoria position. You have repeatedly called Russia a “friend” and have refrained on several occasions at the United Nations from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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President Ramaphosa’s office released a statement adding that more has happened in Washington than initially reported.
“In recent engagements between the South African delegation and US officials, the Lady R matter was discussed, and there was agreement that an investigation will be allowed to run its course and that US intelligence services will provide all evidence in their possession,” the statement said.
Observers believe South Africans were incensed that the ambassador spoke publicly about the Russian cargo ship, which is why Monyela also tweeted: “There is a commitment to use established diplomatic channels to raise any issues that may arise in the management of bilateral relations between the two countries.”
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One question remains. Why, when state-of-the-art cargo terminals are available in the port of Cape Town, was a licensed Russian freighter allowed to dock at a South African naval base?
A State Department spokesman stoked the flames on this issue during a briefing this week, telling reporters: ‘The United States has serious concerns over the docking of a sanctioned Russian cargo ship at a South African naval port in December last year. year”.
Guns or no guns, analysts say South Africa will have to change its view on Putin’s Russia if it is to save the thousands of jobs linked to the US AGOA trade deal, which allows duty-free imports of a large range of items from auto to oranges in the US market.
Monyela, also on Twitter, reported that there will be an investigation into the supply of arms to Russia.
“The inquiry, initiated by President Cyril Ramaphosa, will be a platform to establish facts and roles in the incident in question,” he tweeted.
This raised another question from observers and opposition politicians. This is a tiny navy base, only capable of handling a handful of ships. Why couldn’t President Ramaphosa just ask his defense minister to tell him—if he doesn’t know—what happened with the Russian ship?
Opposition leader John Steenhuisen of the Democratic Alliance put into words the fears of many when he addressed Ramaphosa in Parliament on Thursday.
“South African weapons and munitions could have been used to massacre innocent civilians,” Steenhuisen told the South African president. “My question is simply this: How do you face the world and how do you sleep at night?”