Rand hits all-time low of R19.27/$ after US says SA is supplying arms to Russia.

By Alec Hogg

The reason behind the Rand’s sharp fall in the past two days was revealed in spectacular fashion today when the US’s ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, told journalists that the country has broken the international arms embargo by providing weapons and ammunition to Russia.

This comes on the heels of disclosures that former SA president Jacob Zuma’s daughter Duduzile led a campaign on Twitter supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Rand lost 30c on the embargo-breaking accusation to breach R19.20 against the Greenback. This surpasses the previous all-time low of R19.03 on 24 April 2020 during the early days of the Covid pandemic.

BizNews approached the US Embassy in Pretoria for comment, but David Feldman, a spokesperson for the Embassy said that neither he or Ambassador Brigety were available for interviews or comment on the matter. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson tweeted that “The Presidency has noted the reported remarks attributed to the US Ambassador, and we will respond in due course.”

SA is heavily dependent on special treaties allowing duty-free access into the American and European markets, where it sells the bulk of its exports. Here’s how our partners at the Financial Times of London are telling the story to the world:

US accuses South Africa of supplying arms to Russia

Allegations of ties to the Kremlin are exacerbating the foreign policy crisis for Cyril Ramaphosa’s government.

By Joseph Cotterill of the Financial Times

The US has accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia in a covert naval operation, sharply escalating a foreign policy crisis for President Cyril Ramaphosa over the country’s ties to the Kremlin and its position on the Ukraine war.

Reuben Brigety, US ambassador to South Africa, told local media on Thursday that the US believed weapons and ammunition were loaded on to the Lady R, a Russian vessel under sanctions that docked at Simon’s Town naval dockyard near Cape Town in December.

“Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship . . . which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition on to that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,” he said, in comments reported by South Africa’s News24. 

“The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved,” he added. The US embassy and South Africa’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ramaphosa’s office said it would respond “in due course”.

The rand dropped 2 per cent to 19.2 to the US dollar on the reports, its weakest level since April 2020.

South Africa has said it is non-aligned in the war, but Ramaphosa’s government is under pressure over signs it is favouring Russia, for example by holding joint naval exercises this year. 

Ramaphosa has also extended an invitation for Russian president Vladimir Putin to attend a Brics leaders’ summit in Johannesburg in August — a move that has backfired on Pretoria after the International Criminal Court indicted Putin for war crimes. South Africa, a member of the ICC, would be legally obliged to arrest Putin if he travels there.

Sydney Mufamadi, Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, recently visited the US to explain South Africa’s stance and to try to preserve trade links.

The scandal over the Lady R is likely to overshadow these efforts.

Owned by Transmorflot, a company placed under sanctions by the US last year, the Lady R appeared to switch off its transponder as it made the stop in Cape Town after a voyage down the west coast of Africa.

After the ship left port, South Africa’s defence minister said it had delivered a consignment for the country’s defence forces, but provided no details on what the vessel may have picked up in Cape Town.

The South African government in January officially denied that it had approved any arms sales from South Africa to Russia since Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

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Additional reporting by Mary McDougall in London

Some notable tweets from South African political leaders