South African Communists call for U.S. ambassador’s expulsion over Russia weapons allegations
The Russian cargo ship Lady R is seen docked at the Simon's Town Naval Base near Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 8, 2022. The U.S. accused South Africa of loading weapons onto the ship to assist Russia in its war in Ukraine. An inquiry found the military equipment on board was from the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East - and not from South Africa. | AP

The South African Communist Party is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to expel U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety over the diplomat’s accusations that South Africa provided weapons to Russia for the war in Ukraine.

“Brigety baselessly accused South Africa of supporting” Russia’s campaign against Ukraine, an SACP statement issued Tuesday said. “In defense of our democratic national sovereignty,” the party said Ramaphosa was left with no choice but to order the U.S. withdraw its ambassador immediately.

In May, Brigety alleged that South Africa had weapons intended for Russia loaded onto a container ship named “Lady R” when it docked near Cape Town at the end of 2022. The ship is under U.S. sanctions because it is tied to a company that transported arms for Russia.

After Brigety pointed the finger at the South African government, Ramaphosa appointed a special panel led by a retired judge to investigate the claim. Its report came back on Tuesday of this week.

The conclusion: Military equipment destined for South Africa was offloaded from the Lady R when it docked in the country’s port, but no weapons were loaded onto the ship. Thus, there were no South African weapons exports to Russia, as the U.S. ambassador had claimed.

South African officials did not know that the sanctioned ship was assigned to deliver military equipment to Russia—which was ordered from the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East—until the vessel was nearing national waters.

Ramaphosa made the summary public but has said the full report would remain classified. “To reveal the details of the equipment offloaded would compromise important military operations and put our soldiers’ lives at risk,” he said.

South Africa denied there was any government-approved deal to ship weapons to Russia from the country, which has taken a non-aligned stance on the Ukraine war. When Brigety launched his attack on South Africa, Ramaphosa insisted that he would not allow his country to be pulled into the proxy war between the U.S. and Russia.

“South Africa has not been and will not be drawn into a contest between global powers. We will maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict wherever those conflicts occur,” he said at the time.

The South African Communist Party is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa, seen here speaking at an SACP meeting in Johannesburg, to expel U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety over his accusations that South Africa had shipped weapons to Russia. The SACP says Brigety’s claims were not only wrong but also an attack on South Africa’s sovereignty. | AP

In the same speech, the president said countries, including South Africa, were being “threatened with penalties” for pursuing an “independent foreign policy” and for adopting a position of non-alignment. He said the continent had painful memories of foreign superpowers conducting “proxy wars on African soil.”

As for the South African Communist Party—which is part of the ANC-led alliance that governs South Africa—it says Brigety has to go. It declared that his accusations had damaging effects on the country’s currency, economy, and standing in the world.

It also connected his charges to the bigger issue of how to end the war in Ukraine, out-of-control international military spending, and the protection of South African national sovereignty.

While the U.S. accuses others countries of funneling weapons into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it has “actively taken part in sponsoring the war with direct funding, military hardware, technical capacity, and intelligence operations,” the party said. “The imperialist powers have no interest in seeing an end to the war by peaceful diplomatic means.”

And although the inquiry into the Lady R found South Africa had not provided any weapons to Russia, the SACP said regardless of the outcome, how South Africa conducts its international affairs is no business of the United States.

“Notwithstanding the independent investigation which proved the hysteric United States ambassador’s wild claims wrong, our country has the full democratic and sovereign right to associate with any country it wishes to associate with,” the SACP declared.

“The United States does not have the right to dictate to other countries on their national and foreign policies, and as the people of South Africa, we retain our right to resist such imperialist aggression.”

It reiterated its support for the South African government’s advocacy of a “peaceful and non-aggressive approach to end the war.”

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.