SANCTIONS, isolation from the West, the end of benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement and an even weaker rand are all in South Africa's future if America stands by its accusation that the country supplied weapons and/or ammunition to Russia in December.
This has now placed the months-old question in sharper focus: what is the ANC's real game plan regarding Russia? Does Russia truly finance the bankrupt ANC, as many claim? Or does Russia have a different hold on the governing party? The relationship surely cannot be based merely on nostalgic or ideological considerations.
The ANC's Russia policy is so inexplicable, so clearly contrary to the national interest and that of our struggling economy, that wild conspiracy theories are beginning to emerge. Such as: Will Russia help manipulate the ANC's victory in next year's election (the Kremlin is experienced at manipulating elections in other parts of the world)? Is it an insurance policy in case the ANC loses the election but wants to remain in power?
Since the beginning of the Ukraine war in February last year, South Africa has refused to condemn Russia's invasion; on April 26 it broke away from its Brics partners China, India, and Brazil by abstaining in the UN General Assembly vote on a resolution from the Council of Europe stating that Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine.
The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, claimed in a shocking statement yesterday that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto the Russian ship, the Lady R, which was docked at the Simon's Town naval base between 6 and 8 December.
The Minister of Defence, Thandi Modise, has so far refused to disclose the purpose of the Lady R's visit, other than suggesting it occurred under an “old contract". Brigety said yesterday that he would “bet his life" on the accuracy of the US intelligence about why the ship was in Simon's Town.
“The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved, and we would like SA to start practising its non-alignment policy," he said.
Sceptics pointed out that the US was equally certain in June 2014 that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and this turned out to be entirely false. However, a source in Washington informed me last night that the evidence on which Brigety based his statement will be published in today's New York Times.
A Western diplomat told me last night that Brigety was clearly instructed from Washington to make the statement and that he was definitely briefed on the facts by the head of the CIA. The diplomat also told me that the head of the US Treasury, Janet Yellen, made it clear during her visit to South Africa in January that her country would “quickly and harshly" act against countries that disregard sanctions against Russia.
And he reminded me that Washington had issued a serious warning to China that there would be severe consequences if it supplied weapons to Russia.
President Cyril Ramaphosa categorically refused to answer questions about the weapons to Russia in parliament yesterday. “The matter is being investigated. Let the process be completed first. We will talk about it in due course." This contradicts a statement made shortly before by his spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, who, as a communications specialist, knew it was not a matter that could be easily brushed aside:
The Presidency has noted the reported remarks attributed to the US Ambassador, and we will respond in due course.— Vincent Magwenya 🇿🇦 (@SpokespersonRSA) May 11, 2023
South Africans can surmise that if the president did not immediately deny the serious accusation of supplying weapons to Russia, it may mean that he knows or suspects there is some truth to it. Ramaphosa appeared visibly uncomfortable when discussing the matter. Is there a possibility that even he was unaware of this?
This possibility was underscored by a later statement from Magwenya that the president has ordered an investigation, led by a retired judge, to examine the ambassador's claims.
South Africa's statement that it is not pro-Russia but “non-aligned" is a joke in the international arena of power. We now know, after the recent vote in the UN, that South Africa is even less “non-aligned" than China, one of Russia's last influential “friends".
America's condemnation of the ANC government may in the coming days expand to Britain, the European Union and other Nato countries, all of which are supplying weapons to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression. The value of the rand may further decline after Brigety's statement. Yesterday, a dollar cost R19.34, just 1 cent less than the lowest rate yet, R19.35 in 2020. This will have an impact on fuel and food prices at a time when most South Africans are struggling to make ends meet.
The leader of the official opposition, John Steenhuisen, said yesterday that the US ambassador's announcement “is a chilling and deeply troubling confirmation that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government are actively involved in the Russian Federation's war on Ukraine". Here is ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba's response:
Actively supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine will harm South Africa’s reputation with our international partners.— Herman Mashaba (@HermanMashaba) May 11, 2023
At a time where our economy is already struggling, the reality is that we cannot afford to alienate major trade partners by becoming complicit in Putin’s war.
Steenhuisen will now demand an urgent debate in parliament “on South Africa's involvement in Russia's war on Ukraine, and the dire economic consequences South Africa faces as a result of this violation of international law and South Africa's own constitutional-based foreign policy".
The US and other Nato countries were also deeply unhappy that the South African Navy took part in naval manoeuvres with Russia and China shortly after the Lady R incident, while Russia was at war with another UN member state, Ukraine. Last week, a large Russian cargo plane landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base, allegedly to “offload mail" for the embassy.
In December, Modise launched a feverish attack on the US after the Americans asked questions about the Lady R. Brigety described Modise's criticism that the US threatens Africa over anything that even smells like Russia as “inaccurate and irresponsible". He warned that her attitude has “enormous implications for the relationship between the US and South Africa".
Not long after that, Modise was in Moscow and held talks with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Shortly thereafter, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was warmly received in Pretoria. A few weeks ago, an ANC delegation made a “comradely" visit to Moscow. One of the delegates was Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Alvin Botes, who was shortly thereafter sent to Washington with the presidential adviser on security, Sydney Mufamadi, to extinguish fires.
This week, the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) in the UK declared that Jacob Zuma's daughter, Duduzile, is at the heart of a pro-Russia propaganda campaign. “The evidence is compelling," said CIR vice-president Nina Jankowicz. “She was a clear driver of the campaign and the origin point for many of the tweets that were replicated around the South African information environment, and eventually even further afield."
Steenhuisen also said yesterday: “To put the gravity of this development into perspective, the South African government has jeopardised close to 77% of foreign direct investment stock in South Africa in recent years from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, including hundreds of billions of rands in trade, for a country with whom our trade is only around 0.3%. This also jeopardises South Africa’s preferential access to the US market under the auspices of the Agoa.
“With our economy on its knees and rampant unemployment, the ANC is now forsaking South Africa’s last chance at economic renewal based solely on greed and personal interest.
“The ANC is siding with Russia for one reason alone: because the Russian Federation is funding the ANC, and thus infiltrating and destabilising South African democracy.”
♦ VWB ♦
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