Cape Town - The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has defended Chief of the SA Army, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha’s trip to Russia, saying the bilateral meeting was planned well in advance.
“It must be emphasised that the bilateral visit is a long-standing arrangement. The Chief of the SA Army received an invitation from his Russian counterpart for a Goodwill visit, the visit includes a call to the higher combined Army Academy and the Artillery Military Academy.
“During this visit, the Chief of the SA Army will also have staff talks with military officials. It must be noted that South Africa has Military to Military bilateral relations with various countries in the continent and beyond.
The SANDF receives numerous military delegations into the country and sends its own delegation to other countries to discuss matters of mutual interest,” said SANDF spokesperson Brigadier Andries Mahapa on Monday night.
The development came as South Africa’s relationship with Russia was under the spotlight following US ambassador, Reuben E. Brigety’s claims that South Africa supplied Russia with equipment in its war with Ukraine.
Brigety’s comments that they were positive about the Russian Vessel Lady R being loaded with weapons when it left the Simon’s Town naval base last year have seen him being summoned to a meeting with International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, where he is said to have apologised.
Brigety has yet to provide evidence of his remarks, while the Presidency last week announced the appointment of a retired judge to probe the matter.
In his weekly newsletter on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said there had been “extraordinary pressure” on South Africa to abandon its non-aligned position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and take sides in what was in effect a contest between Russia and the West.
“South Africa is a sovereign state, governed by a democratic Constitution and committed to the consistent application of international law. We will continue to fulfil our obligations in terms of the various international agreements and treaties to which we are signatories.
“These are among the principles that inform our approach to allegations that arms were loaded onto a Russian vessel that docked in Simon’s Town late last year. Since we do not have concrete evidence to support these allegations, we are establishing an independent inquiry headed by a retired judge to establish the facts.”
Ramaphosa said the country will continue to resist calls, from whatever quarter, to abandon its independent and non-aligned foreign policy.
“South Africa’s position on this issue was well explained by my envoy, Prof Sydney Mufamadi, and his delegation who recently travelled to Washington DC for discussions with representatives of the United States government. We are determined, in both word and action, to maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict.”
Meanwhile EFF leader Julius Malema said his party’s central command team (CCT) noted the continued aggression of NATO backed by the US, who wanted to dictate to the whole world who should be declared enemies or friends.
“While we are aware of the inability of the South African government to provide any meaningful arms to support Russia, we know that the United States of America is leading a global campaign to isolate and tarnish Russia’s image.”
He accused the US of being among the countries using the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague as an instrument to pursue a narrow political agenda.
“We as the EFF will be introducing a private members bill in Parliament to effect withdrawal of South Africa from the ICC, which has thus far proved a biassed instrument of global imperialism.”
Malema said the ICC did not take to task former US presidents George Bush and Barack Obama for their involvement in the Iraq war and the Libyan conflict.
“South Africa must withdraw from the ICC and the EFF will lead that effort,” he said, adding that all other African countries should follow suit.