US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety.
An aggressive push is underway for the expulsion of Reuben Brigety, the United States ambassador who unleashed a diplomatic storm when he alleged that South Africa loaded arms on the Russian cargo ship, Lady R — jeopardising the country’s future trade with the world superpower.
The Mail & Guardian understands that South Africa’s government is pressing for Brigety to be expelled, although the US would prefer the ambassador be recalled. In June, the M&G reported that Brigety allegedly made the Lady R revelation without Washington’s go-ahead.
The spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, David Feldmann, told the M&G on Tuesday that the embassy had nothing to add on the Brigety saga, which prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint a three-person panel to investigate the ambassador’s allegation.
In June, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioning South Africa’s eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), given the country’s perceived military ties with Russia.
The letter also expressed concern about South Africa hosting the Agoa Forum later this year. Agoa gives preferential access to the US market to exports from qualifying African countries but it is due to expire in 2025. The summit is expected to include discussion about extending the trade pact.
Ramaphosa has sent several envoys to Washington in the past few months to negotiate for South Africa to remain part of the Agoa.
In late July, a delegation led by Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel travelled to the US to explain South Africa’s non-aligned position on the Russia/Ukraine war and to fight for the country to remain eligible for preferential access to US markets through Agoa.
Members of the delegation have expressed optimism about convincing US lawmakers of the benefits — both to the world superpower and to the continent — of South Africa’s inclusion in Agoa. South Africa is also pushing for the early extension of Agoa in an effort to bring about further investment in the region.
The South African government will however have to consider the optics of expelling an African-American ambassador. Brigety has already been publicly rebuked by South Africa in light of a démarche issued by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor in May.
The US congressional black caucus, which led the charge to enforce sanctions on the apartheid government, is considered an important ally in South Africa’s efforts to see Agoa renewed. Ramaphosa met the caucus last September and called on its members to help ensure trade and investment ties between the US and the continent are not lost.