JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s presidential security advisor said on Saturday the country was “actively non-aligned” in Russia’s war against Ukraine after U.S. allegations that it had supplied weapons to Moscow led to a diplomatic crisis this week.
The U.S. ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety said on Thursday he was confident that a Russian ship under U.S. sanctions had collected weapons from a naval base near Cape Town when it docked there in December.
He added that senior U.S. officials had “profound concerns” about South Africa not respecting its professed policy of non-alignment.
Speaking after leading a delegation on a U.S. visit last month, Sydney Mufamadi, security advisor to President Cyril Ramaphosa, emphasised South Africa’s policy of neutrality in the conflict.
“We need to explain that we indeed are actively non-aligned as far as the conflict is concerned,” Mufamadi told an online briefing.
“We will make absolutely sure that should wars break out, our contribution will always be calculated at helping the parties and everybody else to bring such conflicts to an end.”
South Africa has maintained a neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions condemning the war.
But a spate of recent events including naval exercises with Russia and China this year and hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have raised questions about South Africa’s stance.
Brigety’s comments led to an immediate backlash with Ramaphosa’s government refuting the claims and after a meeting between Brigety and foreign minister Naledi Pandor on Friday, the ambassador moved to offer a clarification.
A government statement late in the evening said: the ambassador “admitted that he crossed the line and apologised unreservedly to the government and the people of South Africa.”
Brigety’s comments also wreaked havoc on the local currency with the rand plunging 4.7% in a space of a week as concerns grew over the potential sanctions on the country.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, who also spoke during Saturday’s briefing, questioned the timing of Brigety’s comments, which he said contained no new information and had been addressed by Ramaphosa in February.