US ambassador apologises for accusing to S Africa of supplying arms to Russia

US Ambassador to South Africa apologised for accusing the African nation of supplying arms to Russia during the Ukraine war after his remarks triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Reuben Brigety
Reuben Brigety

Johannesburg | US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety has apologised for accusing the African nation of supplying arms to Russia during the Ukraine war after his remarks triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.

South Africa on Friday hit out at the US for accusing it of supplying arms to Russia, saying the country cannot be bullied.

"I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Foreign Minister Pandor this evening and correct any misimpressions left by my public remarks. In our conversation, I re-affirmed the strong partnership between our two countries & the important agenda our Presidents have given us," Brigety tweeted on Friday.

His remarks came after Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation said there was no official record of any arms sales to Russia.

“(South Africa) cannot be bullied by the US. They want to treat us as if we are one of their states. We are not. We are a sovereign and republic state and we are not going to co-govern with the ambassador of the US,” she said.

The Department of International Relations and Communication (Dirco) sent a demarche to Brigety and to the minister of the Department Naledi Pandor to meet with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Friday, describing this as part of the diplomatic steps to address the situation.

Spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Clayson Monyela said in his tweet that Brigety had “apologised unreservedly”.

“In his tweet, (Brigety) used language that appears to have left some wondering about his 'apology'. I have informed his office (diplomatic courtesy) that I'd tweet and tag him (as confirmation),” Monyela tweeted.

He tweeted before a statement was released by DIRCO confirming that Brigety had met with Minister Naledi Pandor on Friday.

Monyela said in the statement that Brigety “expressed the South African Government's utter displeasure with his conduct and statements made, alleging that South Africa sold weapons to Russia.” At a media briefing at the US Embassy in Pretoria on Thursday, Brigety said South Africa had supplied arms to Russia when a Russian ship arrived at the military naval headquarters of Simonstown last year.

“DIRCO finds this behaviour by the US ambassador to South Africa puzzling and at odds with the mutually beneficial and cordial relationship that exists between the United States of America and South Africa.

“Following today's meeting, Ambassador Brigety admitted that he had crossed the line and apologised unreservedly to the Government and the people of South Africa,” Monyela said.

He added that South Africa is known globally for having one of the most stringent processes when selling arms to other countries.

The process is managed by the National Convention Arms Control Committee (NCACC), which was created through an Act of Parliament, the National Conventional Arms Control Act 41 of 2002 (NCAC Act), and the Constitution.

Referring to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision to appoint an independent inquiry to look into Brigety's allegations, Monyela said this process would allow for facts to be established and for role players to be identified.

“Anyone found to have broken the law will face severe consequences. South Africa calls on the US Embassy in Pretoria, to use established diplomatic channels of communication to convey any concerns or to seek clarity on any misunderstandings that may arise in the bilateral relationship,” he said.

He said the ambassador had been told at the meeting that any assertion that South Africa had sold arms or is arming Russia is factually incorrect.

“We have invited him to produce any evidence that he relied on for the public pronouncements. None has been submitted yet," he said.

He said they had reaffirmed the commitment to continue working “to enhance the existing cordial, strong and mutually beneficial relations between the two countries.” Relations between the US and South Africa strained last year after the latter refused to vote against Russia at the UN and later also strongly denounced attempts to “bully” the African country into taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Economists and Twitter users slammed Brigety for the damage already done to the South African economy by his remarks.

As the rand plummeted to record lows against the dollar on Friday, economists cautioned about the possible impact of the fallout on trade between the two countries.

The US is one of South Africa's largest trading partners. The US is also seeing South Africa as a gateway into the African continent.

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