Brigety would have been instructed by Washington in SA/Russia matter – Prof John Stremlau

22nd May 2023 By: Sane Dhlamini - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor and Researcher

University of the Witwatersrand International Relations visiting professor John Stremlau told Polity on Monday that he doubts that US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety would allege that the Russian ship Lady R, which docked in Simon's Town in December last year, may have collected ammunition, without instructions from Washington.

South Africa awaits the appointment of a retired judge to shed light on why the ship was in South Africa following allegations by Brigety that the ship may have been in the country to provide Russia with weapons. This as the Ukraine invasion continues.

Recent reports have emerged that Defence Minister Thandi Modise said that Russian arms and ammunition were delivered for South Africa’s special forces by the Lady R cargo ship in December last year.   

Stremlau could not say if this would have a detrimental effect on the relations between South Africa and the US.

He added that the timing of the inquiry into the matter, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is intriguing as South Africa launches a peacekeeping mission with other African leaders to broker peace between Russia and the Ukraine.

"I expect that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is in no mood to compromise so the conflict will go on a bit longer. What we don't know is what intelligence the Americans based that statement on and we can only guess that it was maybe military equipment like drones communication equipment which is vital for war equipment,” Stremlau guessed.

He said South Africa could have reached an agreement in 2019 to provide this material to the Russians for civilian purposes and not for military purposes but added that “things change and we don't know what the frustrations were that reflected in Ambassador Brigety's outburst a week ago".

Democratic Alliance International Relations spokesperson Emma Powell has demanded the Presidency share the minutes and the details of the meeting where a decision was taken to appoint a retired judge to lead an inquiry into whether South Africa gave weapons to Russia.

Stremlau said it was beneficial to have such questions, regardless of the merits, even if South Africans were more preocuppied with and wanted outcomes to issues such as Eskom and loadshedding.

"South Africans are concerned about basic services and corruption rather than foreign policy," he ventured.