South Africa playing with fire

Former World Bank president David Malpass said South Africa is engaged in a “dangerous game” by playing countries against one another, which could hurt the country’s relationship with the US.

South Africa’s relationship with Russia has been brought to the forefront this year as the countries’ close ties have been questioned.

This started in May when US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety told reporters that he would “bet my life” that armaments were collected by a Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, from the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town in December.

South Africa’s government denied the accusation and criticized Brigety, and President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an independent inquiry to probe the claims. The report compiled by this inquiry is currently with Ramaphosa.

Following Brigety’s accusation, several American lawmakers penned a letter regarding the issue to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, wherein they called on the administration to punish South Africa for its support of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The letter focused on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as the cornerstone of the US’ economic relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since, South Africa’s AGOA membership – one of the county’s largest trade partners – has been under threat, with the country set to host the AGOA summit later this year.

Falling out of Agoa would mean an increase in the applicable tariffs for products entering the United States. It does not mean the products would no longer be exported to the US.

However, an increase in price due to higher applicable tariffs would undoubtedly hurt South African export industries as it would make the exports uncompetitive.

South Africa’s relationship with Russia was also called into question when the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March for war crimes related to the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine.

As a signatory to the Rome Statute, South Africa is obligated to arrest Putin.

However, Ramaphosa said he would not arrest Putin if he attended the BRICS summit in August, which drew harsh criticism from some of the nation’s largest trading partners, including the US and the European Union.

Locally, many roleplayers in the private sector and the South African Reserve Bank have spoken up about the need for South Africa to clarify its stance on Russia.

They argue that South Africa’s non-aligned stance toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could hurt its trade relations with the West.

David Malpass, former World Bank president. Photo: LCV /

According to Malpass, “South Africa is playing countries against one another. I think that’s a dangerous game.”

Malpass also pointed to South Africa’s relationship with China as an example. He said China is a very important trade relationship for Africa.

This is largely because China is a big trader of small goods, which is essential to many African countries that need to import consumer goods for everyday life.

China has also invested a lot of money into Africa and provided loans for some countries.

Malpass told Bloomberg TV that it is important for these trade relationships to be more transparent “so that people know what they’re getting for the money”.

Countries like Russia and China are taking advantage of the “immense” security concerns in Africa, he said.

Malpass said the US’ engagement with Africa has been lost, and these countries are stepping into the vacuums the US left. He said the US must now show strength to rebuild the lost relationships.

“The Afghanistan evacuation was a sign and a turning point as the US moved away from the world.”

“The BRICS countries are allowed to operate on the international scene equivalent to other international organizations, even though it’s a narrow membership of those countries,” he said.

“I think there has to be a rethinking also of the international financing system to give less dominance to Russia and China.”

This article was first published by Daily Investor and is republished with permission.

Now read: Arresting Putin would be declaring war against Russia — Ramaphosa

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South Africa playing with fire