South Africa: Disaster On the Potomac As Washington Sours On the ANC, With Agoa and Pepfar As Potential Collateral Damage
South Africa’s ambassador to Washington, Nomaindia Mfeketo, has been missing in action for more than two months through this crisis. She is on sick leave. And the view in Washington is that the delegation headed by National Security Advisor Sydney Mufamadi was hastily arranged, badly timed and did not get to meet the A team in DC.
“We never asked them to kiss our ass,” a former US diplomat said in exasperation this week as the fallout from US ambassador Reuben Brigety’s allegation that a covert shipment of weapons to Russia was loaded onto the Lady R in Simon’s Town in December hit home in Washington.
What he meant was that the US is used to the slings and arrows, which it often deserves, but that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the world. It unleashed an upsurge in Cold War-style hostility towards the US in South Africa while US sensitivity to anti-Americanism rose, especially when coupled with support for Russia in a war seen as integral to US national security.
Where Brigety crossed the line was not only in publicising the weapons allegation but in going after the ANC for its attacks on the US. US diplomats in the past would simply ignore the rhetoric and concentrate on interacting with the grownups in government.
Brigety met on Wednesday with ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula, who apparently wrung out from him another apology for breaking protocol. Clearly, the envoy is under instructions from the State Department to tamp things down after the diplomatic equivalent of poking…