By Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg & Marita Moloney in London
The US envoy to South Africa has accused the country of supplying weapons to Russia despite its professed neutrality in the war in Ukraine.
Ambassador Reuben Brigety told local media he was “confident” that a Russian ship was loaded with ammunition and weapons in Cape Town last December.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said his government was looking into the claims.
The country has maintained claims of neutrality in the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Brigety said at a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday that Washington had concerns about the country’s stated non-aligned stance on the conflict.
He referred to the docking of a cargo ship in the Simon’s Town naval base between 6 and 8 December last year which he was “confident” uploaded weapons and ammunition “as it made its way back to Russia”.
The presence of the ship, the Lady R, had seemed curious at the time and raised questions from some local politicians.
“The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved,” Mr Brigety said, in a damning accusation that seems to have caught South Africa’s officials off guard.
The US has been critical for months about South Africa’s continued cosy relationship with Russia.
It also expressed concerns about South Africa’s participation in military exercises with Russia and China during the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
The naval exercises took place over 10 days in February and were criticised by opposition figures as an endorsement of the Russian invasion.
The South African authorities denied the war games were provocatively timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary and said the country routinely hosts similar drills with other nations, including France and the US.
South Africa previously abstained from a UN vote condemning the invasion. It also refused to join the US and Europe in imposing sanctions on Russia.
In response to a question raised by the leader of the opposition John Steenhuisen, Mr Ramaphosa told parliament on Thursday that the comments made by the US ambassador would be looked into.
The president asked opposition parties to allow for the process to be completed, adding that “in time we will be able to speak about it”.
The US State Department has not yet commented on the claims.
South Africa has strong economic and trade relations with the US and Europe.
But it also has modern-day ties with Russia and China because they are all members of the Brics alliance, a group which represents some of the world’s leading emerging economies, including Brazil and India.
South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) also has long-standing ties with Russia.
The country was faced with a diplomatic dilemma in March after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He is accused of being responsible for war crimes in Ukraine, including the unlawful deportation of children.
Mr Putin was due to attend an upcoming Brics summit in South Africa in August but the warrant meant that Pretoria would have to detain him on arrival.
In response, last month Mr Ramaphosa said the ANC had decided that South Africa should quit the ICC, before backtracking hours later citing what his office called a communications “error”.
“South Africa has strong economic and trade relations with the US and Europe.”
I think it’s time to put an end to that. I have no doubts this shithole country is also receiving stolen grain from Ukraine too.
South Africa has been going down the path to become a shithole since Apartheid has been abolished. It’s a fact.