“PLEASE .. go stock up ur rice, sugar and groceries for a month or two… As I’m in the mills and they slowly shutting down production,” begins a WhatsApp message Africa Check received on 22 April 2020.
It claims that food production company Unilever, commercial bakery Sasko and rice producers Tastic are closing down production on Friday – but doesn’t say which Friday.
“Rice warehouses are empty in [Durban], and no import permited, Plz share with family n friends, got it from a friend in Durban working at Unilever,” the message ends.
It’s also been repeatedly shared on Facebook since 22 April.
South Africa’s hard lockdown to control the Covid-19 outbreak is set to last until at least 30 April. Until then everyone in the country, except essential workers, must stay at home and only go out “under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant”. (Note: President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that there will be some relaxation of these conditions from 1 May 2020.)
The lockdown has led to businesses being closed and production stopped in most sectors of the economy.
Food production has been allowed to continue. But are Unilever, Tastic and Sasko now ending production as well? We checked.
Message ‘false’ and ‘ alarmist’
Africa Check asked Unilever, Sasko, and Tastic if the message was true.
“Our attention has been drawn to a recent WhatsApp message, which states that our production facilities are shutting down. Please note that this rumour is not valid. We confirm that Unilever is providing essential services and is open for business,” said a representative from Unilever’s customer engagement centre.
Representatives at Sasko and Tastic also told us the claim was false.
Tiger Brands, which owns Tastic, tweeted a statement on 23 April describing the message as “incorrect” and “alarmist”.
“We are aware of a WhatsApp message circulating factually incorrect news about facility closures,” it said. “This info is false and unnecessarily alarmist.”
Regulations allow food producers to stay open
The current lockdown regulations allow businesses producing “essential goods” to continue to operate.
“During the lockdown, all businesses and other entities shall cease operations, except for any business or entity involved in the manufacturing, supply, or provision of an essential good or service,” the regulations say.
The regulations’ definition of essential goods includes “any food product, including non-alcoholic beverages, but excluding cooked hot food.”
So Unilever, Sasko, and Tastic are allowed to continue producing food throughout the lockdown.
– Naledi Mashishi