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Fake news and misinformation are fueling bloody Xenophobic clashes in South Africa

Amidst growing tension, Africa Check has been debunking false information in South Africa and beyond

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FILE - A peace march against xenophobia takes place in Durban, South Africa, April 16, 2015. VOA

Africa, March 2, 2017: Fake news and misinformation are fueling bloody xenophobic clashes in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, according to a non-profit that promotes accuracy in African public debate and the media.

Amidst growing tension, Africa Check has been debunking false information in South Africa and beyond.

The television news program Carte Blanche recently made one such claim, that one-third of nearby Malawi’s population had immigrated to South Africa. The actual figure is much lower, and the program has since corrected the statement.

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“Basically, it’s causing unnecessary tension, and people have misplaced ideas about migration,” said Anim van Wyk, editor of Johannesburg-based Africa Check. “I think people just don’t believe the official estimates. People also believe news like, foreigners are taking jobs. We’ve also been busy looking into claims that they make up a large chunk of the prison population, but we’ve seen this time and again, once we start … getting the data that it simply doesn’t back that up.”

Some stories describe attacks that never happened, stoking fear and confusion. Earlier this month, Mzansi Live, a South African website, published an untrue gruesome story about four foreign women who were burned alive after their babies were ripped from their wombs.

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The post has been shared more than 25,000 times on Facebook, but fact checkers determined it was entirely false.

FILE – A peace march against xenophobia takes place in Durban, South Africa, April 16, 2015. VOA

“You couldn’t believe that somebody would make up such a story just for clicks. It always plays into what is already a quite toxic environment,” van Wyk told VOA. “They publish stories that they completely make up. They cash in on the newsworthiness of xenophobia; with the tension rising they made up this truly awful story.”

Political motives

Politicians have also spread false information about foreigners. Some local reports suggest recent violence, including an anti-immigrant march in Pretoria last week, can be traced back to comments made by the mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, who has repeatedly blamed undocumented migrants for bringing crime to the country.

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Mario Khumalo, founder of the South African First party, has also engaged in heated rhetoric, claiming the country has 13 million immigrants, many of whom are criminals or dangerous former child soldiers.

But van Wyk said her group contacted Khumalo, and he could offer no evidence to back up his figure. In fact, van Wyk says the best estimates put the foreign population in South Africa at three million. “So it was clear that it was really exaggerated,” she said.

Africa Check was set up in 2012 to counter false news and misinformation. The non-profit group has offices in Johannesburg and Dakar, Senegal, where staffers examine statements by politicians, institutions and media organizations.

Climate of fear

Anti-immigrant attacks aren’t new in South Africa, but rhetoric and false information proliferating on social media may be amplifying anger and unease.

In numerous interviews, VOA reporters have found a climate of fear developing. Aklilu Beresa, an Ethiopian grocery store owner in Pretoria, said he lost everything during xenophobic rioting in 2015.

“They broke into [the business] and entered, and I can’t even tell you how I saved my life,” he said. “They came forcefully, and people saved me, and I lost all of my property.”

Hassan Isse Mohamud, a Somali business owner in the town of Atteridgeville, fled to nearby Pretoria after an attack.

“Local community leaders came to us and they said, ‘You must leave this area within one month,” he told VOA Somali Service. He said they accused them of stealing their jobs and robbing people. “They told us, if we don’t leave the city within that time [before February 24th], that they will loot our businesses, then kill us,” Mohamud said.

Another Pretoria resident, Daniel Gebru of Eritrea, said South Africans accuse immigrants of taking jobs, bringing in drugs, and sexually abusing women.

To combat that negative image, Gebru told VOA Tigrigna Service, Eritrean and Ethiopian immigrants have raised money to build homes for disabled children and worked with the Mandela Foundation to help the elderly and distribute blankets to homeless people.

South Africa’s turmoil is causing effects beyond its borders. In Nigeria, an angry mob attacked offices of the South African mobile phone giant MTN last week in response to xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

FILE – Migrants in Cape Town’s Mannenberg community demonstrate against xenophobia. (UTERS/Mike Hutchings) VOA

The National Association of Nigerian Students announced it would give South Africans 48 hours to leave Nigeria or the attacks would continue.

Law enforcement taking notice

The role of false information in ongoing xenophobic violence has caught the attention of law enforcement. South Africa’s internal security branch, the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster, has become so concerned about the spread of false information it issued a statement denouncing harmful social media posts and called for them to stop.

Meanwhile, van Wyk sees reason for cautious optimism.

“People are now much more aware, and when we fact-check these kind of things, people would tell us, ‘Yeah, I’ve been calling them out for a long time,’” van Wyk said. “So that is very encouraging.”

“But, that said … like anywhere else, people are on their phones, on Twitter, they just see part of a headline or they are in a hurry, and then unfortunately these things get shared or spread or believed to be the truth.” (VOA)

Next Story

No one Would Buy a Huawei Smartphone Sans Google or Facebook

Despite all this, there is no respite seen for Huawei in the near future and the company is likely to witness its smartphone business dwindle

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FILE - A member of the media tries out new Huawei Honor 20 series of phones following their global launch in London, UK, May 21, 2019. VOA

By Nishant Arora

Be honest and ask yourself: Would you buy a smartphone that neither supports Android operating system and Google apps nor comes pre-installed with Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram? This is the scenario which Huawei (and its sub-brand Honor) smartphones stare at in the near future – and an imminent fall if the issue does not get resolved in the next one-two quarters.

Although the Chinese communications giant aims to launch its own operating system called “Hongmeng” to replace the Android OS on its smartphones but ‘abhi Dilli door hai’ as the OS has to see the light of the day and then users’ approval, which is the most critical part.

The absence of apps like Facebook or WhatsApp that truly define user experiences is a double whammy for Huawei.

Currently the second largest smartphone player in the world (powered by stupendous growth in non-US regions like Europe and Asia), Huawei has sensed the tough road ahead. A recent report in Nikkei Asian Review claimed that Huawei has “downgraded its forecast for total smartphone shipments in the second half of 2019 by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent from the previous estimate”.

According to Navkendar Singh, Research Director, Devices and Ecosystem, India and South Asia, IDC, almost half of Huawei’s smartphone volumes come from outside China with its wide smartphone portfolio which runs on Android with Google Mobile Services (GMS) – a collection of Google applications and application programming interfaces (APIs) that help support functionality across devices.

“China has its own ecosystem of apps which are hugely popular but only in China. Outside it, almost all popular Android apps are from Google or from US-based companies. These apps are the heart of experience of any smartphone user these days,” Singh told IANS.

“Without these apps present on its own OS, it will be very very tough for Huawei to pull in demand for its phones running on its own OS,” he added.

Sandwiched between the ongoing US-China trade war, Chinese telecom equipment major Huawei is frantically looking to salvage its prestige and fast cover the lost ground.

The company is also looking at the Indian smartphone market which has touched 450 million smartphone users and has a great potential to grow.

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Huawei smartphones are seen in front of displayed Google Play logo in this illustration picture, May 20, 2019. VOA

“In India, they have never been really able to scale up to be a major player. But considering the growth potential in India, the decision by Google and Facebook has put a spanner in the Huawei’s possible aggressive plans for the country as the next growth market in next two-three years outside of China,” Singh told IANS.

Huawei pipped Apple as the second largest smartphone seller in the first quarter of 2019 after Samsung. It clocked 17 per cent market share in the global smartphone market, according to Counterpoint Research.

The Chinese tech giant, meanwhile, has denied reports that it has cut down smartphone manufacturing.

The company, however, is reassessing its target to become the world’s top-selling smartphone vendor by 2020, after the US trade ban was put in place.

On May 15, US President Donald Trump effectively banned Huawei with a national security order.

Huawei has filed a motion in a US court challenging the constitutionality of the US President Donald Trump’s order to ban it.

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According to reports, Google has also discussed with the US government about an exemption from the Huawei ban, saying it is bad for the company’s technology business.

Despite all this, there is no respite seen for Huawei in the near future and the company is likely to witness its smartphone business dwindle.

Unless, a miracle happens. (IANS)