Misleading web posts fuel tensions over South African unrest

A foreign national adds flames to a fire in the CBD, after a foreign owned shop was looted.
A foreign national adds flames to a fire in the CBD, after a foreign owned shop was looted.
Image: Alon Skuy

Misleading social media posts about the anti-migrant violence gripping South Africa have been spreading across the continent, fuelling tensions that have already sparked reprisal attacks in Nigeria.

Some posts purporting to show the violence contain old images, or footage from a different country altogether. Here are some of the viral posts fact-checked by AFP.

A deadly fire in India

Tens of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users have watched videos showing people frantically jumping out of a burning building. If the captions are to believed, the footage shows the deadly violence in Johannesburg.

In fact, it was not filmed in South Africa at all, but in India. It shows a horrific fire in the western Indian city of Surat, which killed 20 teenagers last May.

Read AFP's fact-check http://u.afp.com/safrica-fire-india

See an example of one of the misleading posts here: https://perma.cc/4FDP-2MWG

Old video stokes anger in Nigeria

The attacks on foreign-owned stores in South Africa have prompted fury in the continent's other major economic power, Nigeria.

South African businesses have been targeted in reprisal attacks in Nigerian cities, and South Africa on Thursday shut its diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja as a security measure.

LISTEN | What Police Minister General Bheki Cele plans to do about violent looting in Gauteng

Nigerians have taken to the internet to express anger over the violence, with Femi Fani-Kayode, a former aviation minister and prominent commentator, whipping up fears about the "mass murder of Nigerians".

On Monday, Fani-Kayode posted a Facebook video showing what he said was a South African minister "subtly trying to justify the killing of Nigerians".

While the video did show former deputy police minister Bongani Mkongi complaining about immigration, it was filmed back in 2017 and Mkongi is no longer minister.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama on Wednesday warned that misleading social media posts were fanning the tensions, stressing that no Nigerians are among the seven people killed.

"No Nigerian life has been lost during this crisis," he told reporters.

"And I think that is very important because on social media, there is a lot of stories going around of Nigerians being killed, jumping off buildings and being burnt. This is not the case."

He added: "What we know in that premises, shops of Nigerians have been looted and property destroyed."

Read AFP's fact-check http://u.afp.com/mkongi 

See an example of one of the misleading posts here: https://perma.cc/URU4-MGHW

Images of earlier unrest

South Africa has suffered repeated waves of xenophobic unrest in recent years, fuelled by accusations that migrants from other African countries take up scarce jobs.

Since the unrest broke out on Sunday, various images showing similar attacks in previous years have begun surfacing again online, in posts claiming that they show the current situation.

They include an AFP photograph taken during a confrontation in Johannesburg in April 2015.

Read AFP's fact-check http://u.afp.com/safrica-old-photos

See an example of one of the misleading posts here: https://perma.cc/D2UT-EK3F

Actors filming a shootout

Finally, a video of a dramatic shootout has racked up tens of thousands of views on Facebook since the unrest began.

In fact, AFP has fact-checked it on two previous occasions. While many social media users have taken for a genuine video of the unrest, a longer version of the footage shows that the participants in the "shootout" are actors.

Read AFP's fact-check http://u.afp.com/sa-shootout

See an example of one of the misleading posts here: https://perma.cc/7PXX-MB68

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.