South Africa is 'actively non-aligned' on Ukraine war, says government

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Partyzan multiple launch rocket system towards Russian troops near a frontline in Zaporizhzhia region

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa's presidential security advisor said on Saturday the country was "actively non-aligned" in Russia's war against Ukraine, after U.S. allegations it had supplied weapons to Moscow led to a diplomatic crisis this week.

The U.S. ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety said on Thursday he was confident a Russian ship under U.S. sanctions had collected weapons from a base near Cape Town in December. Senior U.S. officials had "profound concerns" about South Africa not respecting its professed policy of non-alignment, he added.

Speaking after leading a delegation on a U.S. visit last month, Sydney Mufamadi, security advisor to President Cyril Ramaphosa, emphasised the policy of neutrality in the conflict.

"We need to explain that we indeed are actively non-aligned as far as the conflict is concerned," Mufamadi told an online briefing.

"We will make absolutely sure that should wars break out, our contribution will always be calculated at helping the parties and everybody else to bring such conflicts to an end."

Later in the day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had spoken to Ramaphosa and urged him to help implement Kyiv's peace plan to end the war. Moscow rejects the basic tenets of the document, which calls on Russia to quit all the land it has occupied.

"Anyone who helps the aggressor with weapons will be an accomplice with all the consequences," Zelenskiy said in a video address from Rome, a day after Ramaphosa spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

South Africa has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions condemning the war.

A spate of recent events including naval exercises with Russia and China this year and hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have raised questions about South Africa's stance.

Brigety's comments led to an immediate backlash with Ramaphosa's government refuting the claims and after a meeting between Brigety and foreign minister Naledi Pandor on Friday, the ambassador moved to offer a clarification.

A government statement late in the evening said: the ambassador "admitted that he crossed the line and apologised unreservedly to the government and the people of South Africa."

Brigety's comments also wreaked havoc on the local currency with the rand plunging 4.7% in a space of a week as concerns grew over the potential sanctions on the country.

(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee and David Ljunggren; Editing by Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis)