South Africa Zuma riots: Fact-checking claims about the protests

By Peter Mwai and Christopher Giles
BBC Reality Check

image captionFire engulfs a shopping area after violence broke out over the jailing of former President Zuma

As unrest spreads in South Africa following the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, some social media users have been sharing misleading videos and pictures.

The current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has urged South Africans to “refrain from posting and circulating inflammatory messages on social media, and from spreading rumours or false reports…”.

We have investigated some examples of widely-shared misleading content.

A doctored image of the former president in prison

A manipulated image appearing to show Mr Zuma in an orange prison uniform has been widely circulated.

It received thousands of shares when it was posted by a Facebook page calling itself “Jacob Zuma deluxe”, with several hundred comments, many either sympathetic to Mr Zuma or saying he deserved to go to jail.

However, some questioned the veracity of the picture. The image carries a watermark showing it’s from a Twitter account which posted it on 8 July.

There’s an outline around Mr Zuma’s head, which looks suspicious. And a reverse images search reveals an almost identical image – without the former president in it – has been available online for long time.

We traced it to an AFP photo database, which clearly shows it was taken in 2002 at Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town.

It’s also worth pointing out that although the former president is currently in prison, current Covid rules in South Africa mean prisoners are not allowed to mix with one another.

The former president’s daughter used old images

A Twitter account for one of Mr Zuma’s children, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, posted an image of people on a major road in the city of Durban, some lying down in an act of protest.

The post was captioned: “Durban City, We See You! Amandla,” with the hashtag #FreeJacobZuma. Amandla – meaning power – became a rallying cry for protests during the apartheid period.

However, the image used is not related to events following the jailing of the former president, and looks like it’s from a different set of protests last year.

We have seen a very similar picture in a media article published on 25 September 2020 where the same individuals and same vehicles can be seen on the road.

It was taken during protests organised by a group with a list of social and economic grievances they wanted addressed.

Although the shot is from a slightly different angle, the positions of vehicles, of the people lying on the road and the way they are dressed looks identical to the one used by Dudu Zuma-Sambudla.

An old video claiming to show current unrest

A video showing a confrontation between a group of black men and white men has attracted more than 300,000 views on Twitter, and purports to show part of the current unrest.

The tweet, posted on 13 July, says: “White farmers in #South Africa get whipped and have their cars stolen as the country descends into mass-looting frenzy”.

The Twitter account is based in Poland, and has a handle associated with online conspiracy theory activity, and posts anti-immigrant and white nationalist content.

Also, the video in question was actually circulating before the rioting started around 9 July.

There are reports online from 25 June featuring the same video, which news stories on independent blogs and sites claimed was about a pay dispute, so unrelated to the current unrest, but we haven’t been able to independently verify these details.

No, lions have not been let out of a game reserve

One widely-shared video falsely claims that those involved in the protests pulled down fencing at the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, letting out lions and other animals.

The Twitter account posting it warns people to “watch out for lions, etc” and it received a lot of comments, and was widely liked and retweeted.

But the post is misleading because the video is old.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the government agency that manages the game reserve, says the video was taken in mid-May during an unrelated protest which had nothing to do with the former president.

This was held by local people angry over a lack of employment opportunities in the area.

“So far we have not experienced any damage to our property,” the game reserve managers said on their Twitter feed on 12 July.

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