South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser said it was in “the interest of his country” to investigate an accusation that a US had secretly moved weapons to Russia from a naval base in Cape Town, as Pretoria tried to calm a diplomatic storm.
In an effort to stress South Africa’s neutrality in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the foreign ministry said Ramaphosa would speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday. Ramaphosa called Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, as the spat with the United States flared.
Pretoria is preparing an investigation into Washington’s allegations that weapons were loaded onto a Russian ship at a port in Cape Town last year.
“It is in our interest to understand what happened and whether what happened was morally right,” Sidney Mfamadi, Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, said at a briefing on Saturday.
He added, “We need to make it clear that we really are not taking sides on this conflict. . . We are against war.”
Robin Brigetti, the US ambassador to South Africa, said this week that South Africa had placed weapons on a Lady R cargo ship owned by a US-backed Russian company, during a stopover in Cape Town in December.
The Ramaphosa government has not explicitly denied the allegation, which has strained the relationship between the United States and its largest trading partner in Africa and caused turmoil in South African markets.
The incident cast doubt on South Africa’s claims of non-alignment over the war in Ukraine, despite previous signs that it was forging closer ties with Russia, including joint naval exercises.
It seems that both the United States and South Africa are looking for ways to de-escalate the situation.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, “stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the United States and South Africa” in a call with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor on Friday, the State Department said.
“This relationship is so important that we must not allow ourselves to distance ourselves from each other with the slightest discomfort,” said Mfamadi.
Mfamadi recently led a delegation to Washington to explain Pretoria’s position on the war and to maintain South Africa’s preferential trade access to the American market under the African-American Growth and Opportunity Act, which has been called into question due to signs of closer ties with Russia. .
Prior to Brigetti’s remarks this week, Zane Dangor, a South African foreign ministry official, said US officials had presented their allegations about the ship to Mfamadi’s delegation, but denied it was in the form of concrete evidence.
South Africa’s defense minister said last year that the Lady R had delivered cargo for the country’s military, but did not disclose what might have been loaded next on the ship before it was returned to Russia.
The ship appeared to turn off its transponder before entering Naval Base Simon’s Town in December. The South African government said it did not approve any arms exports to Russia during this period.
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