Posts falsely claim Russia’s Putin wished S. African ex-leader Zuma happy birthday on TV

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Social media posts claim that an image shows Russian President Vladimir Putin recently wishing South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma a happy birthday on live television. But the claim is false: The image was created by layering elements typically seen in news broadcasts, including a "breaking news" label, over an old photo of Putin. There is no evidence that any media made such a report.

“Haters…President Vladimir Putin of Russia wished President Jacob Zuma HAPPY BIRTHDAY”, reads a tweet published on April 14, 2023.

A screenshot of the false tweet, taken on April 14, 2023

The tweet includes a photo of Putin overlaid with "breaking news" and a "live" banners, giving the impression that the head of state was captured wishing Zuma a happy birthday during a live news broadcast.

Zuma turned 81 on April 12, 2023.

A Twitter account that has been associated with Zuma's daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla (archived here) amplified the same claim to more than 230,000 followers.

Zuma-Sambudla has previously expressed (archived here) her allegiance to Putin, calling him the “president of the world” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

South African police investigated her as a potential instigator (archived here) of the July 2021 riots (archived here) sparked by her father's arrest on corruption charges. More than 350 people died during the unrest.

Repurposed 2022 photo

A reverse image search of the image shows that Russia’s state-owned news agency shared the same photograph of Putin with multiple news agencies, including AFP, on February 21, 2022 -- more than a year ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21, 2022 (Alexey NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP)

It shows Putin making a national address during which he said he would make a decision about recognising the independence of east Ukraine's rebel republics after Russia's top officials made impassioned speeches in favour of the move.

Putin made no references to Zuma nor did he share any birthday wishes in that speech.

Some obvious mistakes can be seen in the fake news broadcast. For example, underneath "breaking news", it reads, “VLADIMIR PUTIN WISHES JACOB ZUMA A 81TH BIRTHDAY,” instead of an 81st.

Several online photo editing tools can and have been used in the past to create similar superimposed TV graphics.

BRICS alliance

Russia and South Africa are part of the BRICS bloc, a group of emerging countries that includes Brazil, India and China.

All eyes will be on South Africa as it hosts the 15th BRICS summit from August 22-24, 2023 to see if Putin attends.

The ICC announced (archived here) an arrest warrant for Putin on March 17, 2023 for the alleged “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children amid Russia’s invasion.

In 2015, South Africa did not comply (archived here) with the request by the ICC to arrest former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg.

AFP Fact Check debunked another Russia-South Africa claim in March 2023 that purported to show Putin arriving in South Africa for an official visit.

April 26, 2023 Corrects typo in headline (missing "s" in "posts")