The Chinese army is not “training 80 000 blacks (sic)” in the Potchefstroom area, there are no “ISIS training camps” in KwaZulu-Natal, “Operation Iron Eagle” is a myth and President Cyril “Ramaphose” (sic) doesn’t need to explain the presence of Chinese “military soldiers” in South Africa, because there aren’t any.
Adding to the growing list of fake news and hoaxes is a claim being distributed on WhatsApp and social media that there is a Chinese military presence in South Africa. While the purpose behind this “secret” deployment isn’t clear, those behind the claim want “Ramaphose” to know that they are “not blind”, providing photographic “evidence”. The only snag is, these pictures are either old or fake.
One message, written in capital letters in broken Afrikaans riddled with typos and spelling mistakes by one Karen Kruger, states: “I wonder what the purpose of Chinese helicopters and cannons with around 1 000 troops who ‘landed’ in Cape Town and Waterkloof at the weekend could be?”
A post by one Sandra-Marie Strauss claims that 6 000 Chinese police officers from China arrived on four ships in Cape Town and that they were given a farm of 26 000ha in Platfontein for training purposes.
She further claims that there are 50 000 Chinese in the Korannaberg mountain pass between Excelsior and Clocolan and another 35 000 between Kroonstad and Petrus Steyn, where the Chinese seemingly “bought a mine” and that no one is allowed to go close to it.
“Seems they are afraid of the white man,” Strauss states.
Captain Jaco Theunissen, joint operations division spokesperson at the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), dismissed these claims as “ridiculous”.
“This is fake news. I saw some of these messages on social media myself. One of the videos, for example, was taken when military equipment was delivered in Walvis Bay nearly three years ago. In that instance, the equipment was destined for Botswana and the SANDF was not involved.”
Use credible sources
Theunissen said it was sad that people should be gullible enough to believe everything they see on social media.
“We have press freedom and transparency in the media in South Africa. I therefore find it strange that people would rely on social media instead of just googling a reliable, more accurate source.”
The pictures attached to the fake messages were also old and unrelated, Theunissen said.
“At this stage, the focus of the SANDF is to assist government in its efforts in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to our regular duties.
“It is shocking when you consider the numbers of Chinese troops people claim are in South Africa. People must just stop and think: How many planes would have to land to ferry tens of thousands of troops? One would literally need thousands of buses to transport these so-called troops. It is ridiculous … truly ridiculous. There are no Chinese troops in South Africa.”
Twitter user Tim Hunter investigated the pictures that accompanied the claims and found that they were taken from a variety of publications dated from 2013 to 2017.
Some pictures show US and South African soldiers gathering for a jumpmaster’s brief at Bloemspruit Airbase on 23 July 2013. Some of the US soldiers are of Asian origin but are not from China.
Another picture used prominently shows South African paratroopers participating in conduct training in China in 2017.
Jail time for fake news
The South African government has gazetted new laws under the Disaster Management Act to combat the spread of fake news. Citizens could get a fine or a six-month prison term for spreading fake news about the coronavirus.
Regulation 11(5)(c) of the act classifies fake news as “publishing any statement through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about measures by the government to address Covid-19”.