South Africa: Will South Africa's Voters Survive the Disinformation Deluge?

South Africans casting their votes in the 2021 local government elections at Birch Acres Primary in Kempton Park.
26 March 2024

The biweekly report by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) sheds light on what they describe as concerning trends in online activity leading up to South Africa's general elections.

The report, focusing on the period between March 1st and 17th, 2024, reveals coordinated efforts by accounts on platform X (formerly Twitter ) aligned with the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party pushing narratives aimed at discrediting the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) ahead of the by-elections.

"One of the allegations is that President Cyril Ramaphosa has invited the United Nations and the United States to South Africa ahead of an impending civil war and that drones should be utilised to track the transport of ballot boxes as the IEC cannot be trusted," reports CABC.

The CABC report says the recurring use of the term "allegedly" as a tactic to "mask the unsubstantiated" nature of these claims. This tactic, they point out, is reminiscent of content creation by the known disinformation account "@DKNMohammed," which has a history of pro-MK content.

The upcoming election has sparked a flurry of online conversations, with a significant portion of the discussion revolving around the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the African National Congress (ANC). A recent conversation analysis showed over 380,000 mentions between March 1st and 17th, 2024, revealing that conversations surrounding Jacob Zuma, particularly the closure of his accounts by FNB and his meetings with various stakeholders, garnered significant attention.

"The groundwork and campaigning efforts of the MK party and the EFF were a major focus," the report added. "The most-used hashtags during this period, garnering over 10,000 mentions each, were #VoteMK2024, #VoteEFF and #VoteEFF2024. The #VoteMK2024 hashtag emerged as supporters of the MK party advocated for voting for them, claiming they would return land ownership to the people."

Meanwhile, #VoteEFF and #VoteEFF2024 hashtags were used by EFF supporters to rally behind the party. However, claims circulated online regarding a "clean" audit for the EFF in the City of Ekurhuleni were dismissed. The analysis also unearthed posts assigning blame for the country's current state. A prevalent sentiment online criticizes the ANC's handling of public funds, power cuts, and unemployment.

"The general anti-ANC sentiment online is directed towards the ruling party for its poor management of public funds, persistent power cuts, and unemployment, among other issues. Criticism has been directed towards the youth who have to allegedly be begged to register to vote; and those who are believed to be heavily reliant on government, refusing to lift themselves out of poverty and joblessness through "hard work" and "determination," reports CABC. "These opinions received mixed responses online.

"A peak in conversation related to election monitoring peaked on March 11th, 2024," according to the report.

The surge coincided with the circulation of a letter from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and partnering parties within the multi-party charter. The letter, addressed to Western nations, requested international assistance and funding to bolster "local monitoring efforts" for the upcoming national elections.


The CABC also weighed in on the online buzz surrounding "NomaRally," a nickname for a young South African attending manifesto launches for political parties from the ANC, MK, EFF, and IFP, and is reportedly planning to attend the upcoming ActionSA launch. While the "NomaRally" situation has become a source of 'humor' online, "it does reflect lived realities and raises questions about genuine political participation by the youth."

Consider an example post from the recent  ANC manifesto launch which reflected that some individuals signed up to attend the manifesto launch as a means to secure transport to visit Durban and the beach," CABC reported.

This raises questions about the authenticity of youth engagement in political processes.

Dividing or Uniting?

As the upcoming elections are heating up, and with that comes the rise of misinformation and the manipulation of narratives. An example concerns the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and their leader, Julius Malema.

During a speech at the party's North West manifesto launch, party leader Julius Malema spoke of his commitment to Pan-African unity.  Malema said, "I am not desperate to become President of South Africa. I am desperate to unite the African continent and if the unity of my people is going to cost me votes, you can keep your votes. I don't want xenophobic votes, I don't want the votes of haters...".

However, some social media accounts twisted his message, falsely claiming he didn't want South Africans to vote for him.

Spreading misinformation not only discredits political parties but also fuels social tensions. By twisting Malema's words, these accounts "exploit pre-existing anxieties about immigration, potentially inciting violence and hatred". The CABC's Xenophobia project reports documented instances where critiques of the EFF appear rooted in a misinterpretation of pan-Africanism, conflating it with anti-South African sentiment.

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