AI-generated pothole image misleads about Cape Town service delivery

Effective and reliable public service delivery is a hot-button issue in South Africa as the country heads to the polls at the end of May. From a seemingly endless electricity crisis to poor infrastructure, many citizens use social media to voice their dissatisfaction. Some users have shared an image allegedly showing a derelict road leading to Cape Town's famous Table Mountain. But AFP Fact Check found the photograph was not real but a creation generated with artificial intelligence.

“The other side of Cape Town. Mthatha is Ma Home Town,” reads a Facebook post published on May 4, 2024.

Mthatha is a town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

The picture accompanying the posts shows a long winding road riddled with potholes and, in the background, Cape Town’s Table Mountain in the Western Cape. 

Screenshot of the AI-generated image on the false Facebook post

The post suggests that the Western Cape province needs better governance.

Service delivery protests are a mainstay in South Africa, especially ahead of general elections when frustrated residents try to make their voices heard (archived here).

As a result of this and coupled with economic challenges, experts predict that South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will see dramatically reduced support for the first time since gaining power 30 years ago (archived here and here). 

An independent governance report released in March 2024 found that the three best-run local municipalities in South Africa are all in the Western Cape, which is governed by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

Cape Town was also named the best metro in South Africa for service delivery (archived here and here).

However, the photo circulating on social media is AI-generated.

‘Social commentary’

Using a reverse image search,  AFP Fact Check traced the photo to an Instagram post by Thekiso Mokhele published on April 21, 2024 (archived here).

This post indicates that the image is AI-generated.

“‘SERVICE DELIVERY’ Ai Art Photography by @thekiso_mokhele,” reads the caption.

The account shows other pothole-ridden roads in South Africa.

Contacted by AFP Fact Check, Mokhele confirmed that he had produced the images using AI tools, calling them “social commentary”.

“We need service delivery, more so in underdeveloped communities in our country,” he told AFP Fact Check.

The AI artist made headlines in 2023 when he created art out of the remnants from a methane gas explosion that ripped through the road of a street in Johannesburg's central business district (archived here and here).

As some users pointed out in the comment section of the misleading Facebook post, it would be impossible to capture Table Mountain from that vantage point -- the photographer would have to be in the Atlantic Ocean.

Screenshot of the view of Table Mountain taken from Google Earth

South Africans will vote in provincial and national elections on May 29, 2024. The result could bring about the most significant political change in three decades, with the ruling ANC at risk of losing its parliamentary majority (archived here).

Last paragraph incorrectly stated South African municipal elections take place on May 29, 2024
May 17, 2024 Last paragraph incorrectly stated South African municipal elections take place on May 29, 2024

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