'We didn't approve arms to Russia': S. Africa minister

STORY: A South African minister responsible for arms control has said the government did not approve any weapons shipments to Russia late last year.

That's after the U.S. ambassador to South Africa said on Thursday (May 11) he was "confident" that a Russian ship had picked up weapons at a South African port in December.

The move would be a possible breach of South Africa's declared neutrality over the Ukraine conflict.

Here's U.S. State Department spokesperson Verdant Patel on Thursday.

"The U.S. has serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel at a South African naval port in December of last year."

But on Friday (May 12), Communications Minister Mondli Gungubele, chair of the National Convention Arms Control Committee when the alleged arms shipment took place, said that if weapons were loaded onto a vessels bound for Russia that would be illegal and inappropriate.

"We didn't approve any arms to Russia, ... it wasn't sanctioned or approved by us," radio host Clement Manyathela quoted Gungubele as saying in a Twitter post.

Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa's department of international relations and cooperation, also wrote on Twitter that the arms control committee "has no record of an approved arms sale by the state to Russia related to the period/incident in question."

Neither of them said whether or not an unapproved shipment had left South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's office said an inquiry would look into the allegation.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa faced questions from the opposition over the allegation.

"...and that whole matter, honourable Steenhuisen, is being looked into."

South Africa has close historic ties to Russia due to Moscow's support for the anti-apartheid struggle.

Last year it conducted joint naval exercises with Russia and China, which it called "routine".

South Africa's presidency said that the issue of the suspected arms shipment had already been discussed with U.S. officials who had agreed to let an investigation run its course.

No evidence, it added, had yet been provided by Washington.

Monyela said his department would speak to U.S. ambassador Reuben Brigety over his remarks and that Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor would talk to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken later in the day.