/ 18 December 2017

Frenzy of misinformation at the Nasrec expo centre

Ramaphosa said the ANC wanted government to start farmer support programmes. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

As thousands of delegates and journalists squirrel away at the high-stakes arena that is the 54th ANC national conference, fake news has reared its ugly head with a barrage of misinformation.

The “news” ranges from “Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wins by a landslide” to “Cyril Ramaphosa heads to the courts to nullify the conference”, and even that there will be all-out war.

But this is only the tip of the misinformation iceberg. WhatsApp groups have been flooded with messages, purportedly from the two main factions, which have been aggressively touting their preferred candidates to the point of creating fake stories about the other and their supposed plots to collapse the conference.

The delay in proceedings on the opening day fuelled the misinformation and speculation.

Messages on WhatsApp circulated saying that the Dlamini-Zuma “head count across all accredited voting delegates is eating at 3 125. The NDZ victory and the RET [radical economic transformation] programme of action is unstoppable”.

Another message said: “CR team’s strategy is to delegitimise the democratic outcomes of the conference. Expect a flurry of court challenges and media onslaught, gleefully enabled by a shameless and reactionary mainstream media.

“They are already making all manner of absurd allegations. Their endgame is to fatally weaken and divide the ANC. White Monopoly Capital that controls CR and hates the revolutionary ANC is determined to make this conference the decisive stand against the movement and only hope of the African people.”

Another message: “I suspect that these people will eventually form their own organisation when they realise that ANC members are not idiots and will not allow no white-owned media and untransformed factional judiciary to determine the outcome of our democratic processes.”

Another message: “CR camp realised they don’t have the numbers. Hence called for the chairperson’s meeting to collapse the conference.”

Reasons to be given to media: “Bogus delegates in NDZ camp. Provinces to support: Gauteng/Western Cape/Eastern Cape/Northern Cape/ Trying for Limpopo which is not in agreement yet. You need five provinces’ confirmation to collapse the conference.”

The inherent danger of fake news has grown in recent times, especially when it plays out in political campaigns, most notably as it did in the United States’ presidential elections, which saw the term “fake news” enter the lexicon.

On Sunday, one legitimate news publication wrote that the Ramaphosa faction is trying to collapse the ANC elective conference after seeing the “overwhelming show of support for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The CR17 lobby is in a panic. It is trying to delay the conference as far as possible and collapse it. The writing is on the
wall. The NDZ train has the numbers.”

It goes on to quote sources inside the Ramaphosa faction, who claim knowledge of a three-pronged strategy to “rob NDZ of a victory”.

There were also stories that lawyers have already finalised court papers and prominent judges have been asked to preside over the impending cases, which will be brought by the Dlamini-Zuma faction.

The story published claimed that “Johann Rupert and the Oppenheimer family are bankrolling the sabotage. Bidvest, in which Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan have business interests, is alleged to be the entity bribing delegates with money and accommodation at luxurious hotels.”

On the other hand those supporting Ramaphosa were on social media claiming that Dlamini-Zuma’s team was delaying the conference to pull tricks to subvert “the inevitable”.

“Morning leadership, yesterday the NDZ camp delayed the credentials process deliberately, because they can see that CR has the numbers,” read one of the posts.

Another post: “NDZ is running scared and needs more time to figure out how to steal the election, that’s why no credentials will happen tonight.”

Yet another: “Don’t be misled, we are winning this thing. We have 2 941 delegates and they have less than 2 300 … no compromise.”

Even the reputable Times Online fell foul when they erroneously reported that Ramaphosa had won, before the voting had even begun. They corrected the mistake, explaining that they had misconstrued ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete’s endorsement of Ramaphosa as being an ANC decision.