/ 31 October 2023

Charges against fake doctor ‘Matthew Lani’ dropped

Matthew Lani
Charges of identity fraud and impersonating a medical doctor against Tik Tok influencer Matthew Lani were withdrawn at the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on Tuesday. (Facebook)

Charges of identity fraud and impersonating a medical doctor against Tik Tok influencer Matthew Lani were withdrawn at the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on Tuesday, his lawyer said.

Lani was due to appear in court but emerged from the building on crutches, alongside his lawyer Dumisani Mabunda, who told journalists that criminal charges laid against his client by the Gauteng health department and Dr Sanele Zingelwa, who Lani allegedly pretended to be, had been dropped.

“He was doing whatever he was doing on TikTok for entertainment — it is not impersonation and it’s not a crime,” Mabunda said, adding that the claims were baseless as no one had come forward to say Lani had prescribed any medication for them.

“The hospitals, the least they could have done was to maybe ban him going to hospitals and taking videos and, if he were to continue with that, then that would be trespassing and they would have a case against him. 

“On the other hand, HPCSA [Health Professions Council of South Africa], the least they could have done was maybe to interdict him or stop him from doing those videos,” he said.

Lani was apprehended by security personnel when entering the main entrance of the Helen Joseph Hospital on Sunday night. According to the Gauteng health department, he asked to go to the toilet, where he attempted to escape through the window. 

When security realised that he was trying to escape, they called for reinforcements, and Lani was captured and handed over to the police for an official arrest.

The 27-year-old influencer Lani gained attention after he began sharing medical advice and his experiences as an alleged HIV/Aids doctor with his 280 000 followers on TikTok.

But, earlier in October, his qualifications came under scrutiny when the University of Witwatersrand released a statement distancing itself from him.

“Following claims made by ‘Dr Matthew Lani’ on social media and based on the facts at hand, Wits cannot find any person who graduated by the name of Matthew Bongani Zingelwa or Sanele Zingelwa in recent years,” the university said.

Lani also claimed to have graduated from Cambridge International College, which was disputed by the institution. The department of education also said there was no record of Lani’s National Senior Certificate.

Following these disputes, Lani took to TikTok, claiming that he had graduated from both institutions, under a different name, and that ‘Dr Matthew Lani’ was a social media persona he had adopted.

The case is an illustration of how social media has influenced many people’s lifestyle choices because they want to be seen and crave a certain type of recognition, clinical psychologist Dr Pam Tudin-Buchalter told the Mail & Guardian.

“One major impact is the prevalence of online comparison, where [users] measure themselves against idealised images presented on various platforms which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a heightened desire to conform to unrealistic standards,” she said.

Meanwhile, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) has expressed concern over the increase in the number of fake doctors after the HPCSA reported that, since June 2023, 124 people claiming to be doctors had been arrested.

“This practice undermines the trust and integrity of the healthcare system, in addition to jeopardising the health of those who seek care,” SAMA chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said.

SAMA has called on the public to be cautious when seeking medical advice or treatment and to verify a doctor’s credentials by searching for them on the HPCSA iRegister.