US President Joe Biden retains 'full confidence' in ambassador to SA Reuben Brigety

07 September 2023 - 17:32
 US embassy says President Joe Biden retains
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU US embassy says President Joe Biden retains "full confidence" in its ambassador Reuben Brigety after Lady R report, which found no evidence to support his claims that there were weapons exported to Russia by South Africa.

US President Joe Biden retains “full confidence” in ambassador Reuben Brigety despite  South Africa's Lady R report concluding there was no evidence to back up his allegations that South Africa “exported” weapons to Russia last year. 

This week a panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa published a summary report on a probe about what happened when a Russian ship, Lady R, stopped in Simon’s Town late last year. The summary stipulated there was no evidence found to substantiate Brigety's claims. 

The panel only confirmed the offloading of equipment for the South African National Defence Force, which was ordered and had been waiting for delivery since 2018. The full report was not published.

South Africa dominated international news in May when Brigety made the claims saying, “we are confident weapons were loaded onto that vessel and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion”. 

US embassy spokesperson David Feldmann said the embassy appreciated the “seriousness” with which Ramaphosa’s panel of inquiry undertook to investigate “irregularities”. However, he did not answer TimesLIVE's questions on whether Brigety would face any disciplinary action.

Feldmann said: “Ambassador Brigety is President [Joe] Biden's personal representative in South Africa. The president and the secretary [Antony Blinken] retain full confidence in him.” 

The American embassy also did not answer questions on whether there were plans to challenge the report.

Feldmann was, however, confident in the US-SA relations. 

“We have a strong relationship with South Africa and that relationship is based on the priorities of the American people and the South African people. We are committed to an affirmative agenda through which we work together to bring our nations’ respective priorities to the table.

“These include issues of global peace and security, robust bilateral trade, shared health goals, and developing renewable energy sources to address climate change and provide reliable power,” Feldmann said.  

Speaking to TimesLIVE, independent political analyst Prof Tinyiko Maluleke said despite the panel report finding, it was not easy for South Africa to expel Brigety as this would put a strain on its relationship with America .

“America being a ‘senior’ partner to South Africa has so much influence that they can get away with the claims, unlike if it was any other country. When looking at diplomatic and economic reasons, it is a lot harder for South Africa to expel an American ambassador because the US could retaliate by doing the same and it could spiral out of control,” Maluleke said. 

“South Africa is not doing anything because the retaliation could be more costly to us. There is Agoa (African Growth and Opportunity Act) which we need and there were already threats that we could be removed.” 

Maluleke said the US could be planning to enforce disciplinary action against Brigety but did not want to do it soon, so that it doesn't seem like they were pushed by the findings of the panel, which were also surrounded by secrecy. 

Maluleke said the sale of weapons in all countries was done in a secret manner, and it would be difficult to provide any evidence of this. He said Brigety’s public claims might have been pushed by the American government’s strained relations with Russia.