Zimbabwean leader did not call country’s Ndebele diaspora 'wanted criminals', article fabricated

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A Facebook post with more than a thousand shares claims that Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa told a state-aligned newspaper most Ndebele people living in neighbouring countries had fled as fugitives from justice. However, both The Herald newspaper and Mnangagwa’s spokesman rejected the claim as false. The comments attributed to Mnangagwa were made to look like they were taken from an article – which doesn’t exist – on the publication’s website. 

A Facebook post published on April 18, 2022, and shared more than 1,300 times includes a screenshot from a purported article by Zimbabwe’s The Herald newspaper.

“President Mnangagwa told The Herald that most Ndebele people who run to neighbouring countries are wanted criminals in Zimbabwe so he is not surprised by news of Zimbabweans associated with crime in South Africa (sic),” reads the text inside the screenshot, which includes an image of Mnangagwa and part of the navigation menu from the newspaper’s website.

The post comes from an account affiliated with Nhlanhla Lux, leader of a movement in neighbouring South Africa calling itself “Operation Dudula”. The group has stated its aims as driving foreigners out of the country in order to prioritise South Africans for jobs and ostensibly minimise crime.

“The Zimbabwean president has made it clear that we are dealing with WANTED CRIMINALS that fled Zimbabwe hence South Africa is under attack with violent crimes by ‘illegal’ foreigners,” reads part of the post’s caption. 

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on May 6, 2022

 

The Ndebele people are a minority ethnic tribe in Zimbabwe.

As reported by AFP, human rights groups have long maintained that when former president Robert Mugabe was in power in 1983, he deployed a North Korean-trained military unit to crack down on a revolt in the southwestern region of Matabeleland in newly independent Zimbabwe.

The so-called Gukurahundi massacres killed an estimated 20,000 people over several years, according to the Zimbabwe Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, a death toll supported by Amnesty International.

Most of the victims were Ndebele.

Mugabe, who died in 2019, never acknowledged responsibility for the massacres, dismissing Amnesty International’s evidence as a "heap of lies".

Mnangagwa and tribal chiefs have since been in talks to settle longstanding grievances over the massacres.

Not in The Herald

But, according to government spokesman Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s leader did not insult the Ndebele people in The Herald.

“Any sane thinking person would know that this is fake. Let’s refuse to be divided by degenerates who believe there is a dividend to be gained from fissures in our Nation,” Mangwana wrote in a tweet on April 18, 2022.

A screenshot of the tweet, taken on May 9, 2022

On the same day, The Herald also took to Twitter to denounce the claim as false, saying: “NOTICE: Please note that this is fake. #FakeNews”.

AFP Fact Check searched the newspaper’s website and found no trace of such a story online. 

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has previously condemned the actions of Operation Dudula, and described it as a “vigilante type” organisation whose actions are illegal and are likely to “get out of hand”.

Ramaphosa said that the group was dividing the continent and that illegal immigration should be dealt with “within the parameters of the law”.