Will fake news derail Mabuyane?

Contest: Oscar Mabuyane warns of the dangers of false news ahead of the Eastern Cape’s party elections. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Contest: Oscar Mabuyane warns of the dangers of false news ahead of the Eastern Cape’s party elections. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

As the propaganda campaign is stepped up ahead of the ANC Eastern Cape elections, the region’s party secretary, Oscar Mabuyane, has warned that fake news about his bid to be elected chairperson could lead to harm befalling his supporters.

Mabuyane is facing the incumbent, Premier Phumulo Masualle, and has been embroiled in a tussle between opposing factions for the past six months.

The conference outcome will determine which national leader the Eastern Cape supports when the ANC elects a new president and national executive committee in December. With more than 270 000 members, the Eastern Cape is the second-biggest ANC province after KwaZulu-Natal.

Mabuyane is known to back ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, whereas some in Masualle’s faction back Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to replace president Jacob Zuma. Masualle has publicly endorsed Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa’s lobbyists have been working hard to convince Mabuyane and his supporters not to contest against Masualle, to ensure the province goes to the national conference united. But in an interview this week, Mabuyane was adamant that he would challenge Masualle for the hot seat in the province.

In the latest bid to write Mabuyane out of the race, a fake news story in the so-called Daily Chronicle claimed Mabuyane had withdrawn from the leadership race and quotes an “exclusive interview” in Queenstown with the provincial secretary.

The story was spread to ANC members in the province through a bulk SMS.

“Whilst I am humbled by the nomination from some branches, it is clear that the majority of structures still prefer comrade Phumulo to lead us,” the fake news story quotes Mabuyane.

This week he told the Mail & Guardian that the story was “rubbish. There was no such thing. We even don’t know where it came from. We’ve never heard of such a newspaper or any media house.”

He warned that the highly contested provincial conference poses a risk to the safety of candidates aligned to his campaign.

“Sometimes propaganda like this not only leads to character assassination but it leads to physical assassination — because you spread this propaganda and attacks [happen to] individuals,” he said.

He also said that anyone elected based on fake news propaganda campaigns could not be trusted.

“They are basically hijacking [a legitimate election process], hence they will do anything to ensure leaders of their own choice that will be accountable to them are elected at the conference. If people elect you and they don’t know where you were controlled before, you are not as reliable and trustworthy,” he said.

A senior lobbyist for Masualle’s campaign denied being behind the fake news story.

“They are just looking for someone to blame, but it is true that premier [Masualle] still holds the support of the majority of branches,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Mabuyane said they had not yet investigated whether the province’s ANC contact database was used to spread the misinformation.

The conference is scheduled to run from August 30 to September 3, but this depends on whether the membership audit verification committee can resolve 80 outstanding disputes before then.

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