South Africa should not mess with the US
The fallout from the allegations that South Africa supplied arms to Russia will have significant consequences for the country, potentially relegating it to an “international leper” like Iran and North Korea.
This is the view of various analysts, including political scientist RW Johnson and Peter Attard Montalto, the managing director of Intellidex.
United States ambassador to South Africa, Reuben E. Brigety, accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia via a ship that docked at Simon’s Town Naval Base in December.
Brigety is convinced South Africa supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia despite Pretoria having taken a neutral stance on its invasion of Ukraine.
While US intelligence had agreed to provide evidence of the shipment, none has been provided so far, South Africa’s presidency said in a statement last Thursday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an inquiry into the matter which will be led by a retired judge.
The government has since said no record exists of an arms sale to Russia.
Johnson said these actions suggested the government is “time wasting and kicking for touch”, hoping the problem will disappear.
However, South Africa is now “playing in the big league” and dealing with the world’s pre-eminent superpower with whom trade relations are vital.
It is one thing to mislead local politicians and media. It is something else entirely to try and mislead the US.
Damage will be enormous
South Africa is at risk of becoming an “international leper” on par with Iran and North Korea, according to Johnson, who spoke to BizNews.
The country was fully aware of the risks of supplying weapons to Russia, with the US and the European Union (EU) being clear that they would sanction any state aiding Russia.
South Africa would likely lose its favourable status under the United States African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This allows South Africa to export products to the US duty-free.
A clause in the AGOA states the US can end the agreement with a participant if it acts against US national security interests, which South Africa has broken if it supplied Russia with arms.
Being excluded from AGOA by the US will be followed by sanctions from the EU, said Johnson, as they tend to follow America’s example.
This will end South Africa’s automotive industry, which exports most of its production to the US and EU, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs and roughly 8% of the country’s GDP.
According to Johnson, the automotive industry will be only one of many casualties.
Another effect will be the loss of antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients, mostly donated to South Africa by the US.
“The damage will be enormous. South Africa will have to make tough choices. Just saying ‘oh dear, oh dear’ will not get you very far,” he said.
A symbol of incompetence
Speaking on The Money Show, Montalto said this diplomatic crisis shows a “lack of strategic thinking on the implications for South Africa” from the government.
Dissatisfaction from the US has been clear for some time and goes beyond supplying arms to Russia.
It includes the general hostility the ruling ANC shows towards the West, and the US in particular.
There is a real risk the US will end South Africa’s participation in AGOA, hobbling local industry and agriculture.
This will result in South Africa becoming a global pariah and damaging its global reputation as a champion of human rights and liberalism.