Last weekend, claims appeared on social media that KwaZulu-Natal’s member of the executive council for finance, Nomsa Dube-Ncube, had been interviewed by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) about the alleged disappearance of part of R220-million in disaster relief allocated to the province’s agriculture department in 2015.
According to the social media posts, which were circulated by government communicators, among others, Dube-Ncube, who is also the ANC KwaZulu-Natal treasurer, was being targeted by state agencies as part of a plan to prevent her from standing as the party’s provincial chairperson at its conference, which starts on Friday.
The posts also claimed the involvement of two of the other contenders for the position — sitting chairperson Sihle Zikalala and AmaZulu FC owner Sandile Zungu — in a plan to have Dube-Ncube arrested on the basis of an intercepted WhatsApp conversation.
The posts appended a one-line statement from Dube-Ncube’s office that she had been interviewed by security agencies but saying nothing more.
Media houses picked up on the posts, with some running the content of the alleged WhatsApp discussion, along with other details on the social media profiles they had been taken from, reinforcing the narrative that Dube-Ncube was the target of a sinister plot using state resources.
It was, after all, not implausible that state resources could be used in the governing party’s internal battles. It has happened before.
Two years of evidence before the Zondo commision into state capture, and the commission’s findings, were testimony to this — and to the payment of millions of rands to media houses by the State Security Agency to influence their coverage of the ANC’s internal strife.
But by Monday, on closer inspection, it became clear that the WhatsApp conversation on which the claims of a plot against Dube-Ncube rely, did not exist.
None of those who had pushed the plot story — including officials from her campaign — were able to provide the conversation they quoted to back up their claims.
There was also no police investigation into Dube-Ncube.
The Hawks had interviewed her on 14 July but for information about the alleged disappearance of the disaster management funds, in which she was neither a suspect, nor a potential suspect, as part of the process of verifying a complaint laid in 2019.
The Dube-Ncube plot story can’t be seen in isolation.
The governing party is deep into its conference cycle, with the leadership contests at regional and provincial level paving the road for the national conference in December. The fake news and conspiracy theories being peddled through social and traditional media by the factions in the ANC are a part of this.
As the contest heats up and the stakes increase so will the flow of propaganda — from all sides — with the battle being fought as viciously on social media, on the editorial and op-ed pages and in the online domain, as it is on the ANC conference floor.
It is a time for all media, the Mail & Guardian included, to exercise more vigilance, more attention to detail, to apply more scrutiny to every news story, every opinion piece we run, to prevent ourselves — and our readers — from becoming collateral damage in the factional wars inside the governing party. mg.co.za