Diplomatic spat over Russian arms – the US got it all wrong: report

 ·6 Aug 2023

The investigation launched into the allegations that South Africa supplied Russia with weapons was handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, finding that the US legislators’ allegations were false.

According to a City Press report, it has been confirmed that the Lady R, the Russian cargo ship, did not load any weapons or ammunition from South Africa when it docked at the Simon’s Town Naval Base in December of last year.

Sources close to the report told the news outlet that the ship did, however, load food and other supplies for its return trip to Russia, according to the findings of an investigation.

The report further noted that, while weapons were involved, it confirmed that this was an old order that supplied South Africa with firearms and ammunition to equip the South African National Defence Force (SANDF)’s special forces in northern Mozambique – not the other way around.

The Lady R report was commissioned on 18 July and was finalised on Friday (4 August) before it was handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The investigation was triggered by accusations that arms were secretly loaded onto the vessel while it was docked in Simon’s Town harbour in December.

Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said that once the president had studied its contents, consideration would be given to what could be made public.

Some good news for South Africa’s sticky AGOA situation

The investigation and report came after the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, Sounded the alarm that arms were supplied to Russia in May – kick-starting heightened diplomatic tensions between South Africa and the USA.

In a statement to the media in May, Brigety said that he would “bet his life” that arms were supplied to Russia.

This resulted in the prospect that South Africa could lose massive trade benefits due to its ties with Russia – as US legislators wrote to the US Secretary in June calling for the country to be ousted from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) agreement.

In the letter – in light of the accusation that South Africa supplied Russia with weapons to support the war with Ukraine – the US legislators said the country had “deepened its military relationship with Russia, and there are serious concerns with current plans to host this year’s AGOA Forum in South Africa and its actions call into question its eligibility for trade benefits under AGOA”.

If ousted from the AGOA, South Africa could stand to lose R50 to 60 billion in export trade.

However, if wider sanctions follow as a consequence, Investec chief Annabel Bishop estimated that the country could lose over 40% of its export revenue (R612 billion). This would wipe out approximately 10 to 15% of its GDP – which stands at roughly R4.6 trillion, according to Stats SA.

“SA will likely face its worst economic crisis to date if it undergoes full sanctions from the West,” she said.

However, if reports that South Africa did not supply weapons to Russia remain true, this will work massively in the country’s favour going into the AGOA Forum 2023, where it will find out whether the US still recommends its membership to the trade benefits be revoked.

The AGOA Forum 2023 is still expected to be held in South Africa and will take place sometime after the BRICS summit held in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August.

Read: Good news for smart IDs and passports in South Africa – just don’t wait

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