The United States ambassador to Pretoria has accused South Africa of providing military support to Russia despite its declared neutrality in the conflict with Ukraine.
During a meeting with local media, Reuben Brigety said the US is convinced that “arms and ammunition were loaded” onto a Russian cargo ship that docked near Cape Town in early December last year “before it left for Russia”.
“Arming the Russians is extremely serious and we do not believe that this issue has been resolved,” he added. “We would like South Africa to start practising its policy of non-alignment.”
Asked about the reliability of US intelligence on the ship’s cargo, Ambassador Brigety said it was solid.
His words were confirmed to AFP by a source present at the meeting, but the American embassy declined to confirm or deny them.
The ship’s berthing at Naval Base Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula caused controversy in the South Africa when it came to light late last year.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, called on the ANC-led government to explain how a Russian cargo ship targeted by Western sanctions was allowed to dock.
The shadow defence minister, Kobus Marais, questioned why the cargo ship had docked at a military port rather than a commercial one and “why there is so much secrecy” surrounding it.
South Africa has not officially taken sides since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Shortly after the invasion, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced he had spoke with Vladimir Putin by telephone to discuss the situation, but no transcript or readout was made available.
The two men held another phone call last summer, this time discussing the war’s implications for global food security ahead of a BRICS summit.