South African minister's Wikipedia entry falsely claimed he is Zimbabwean

After South Africa’s new government was unveiled in late June, online users shared viral Wikipedia screenshots allegedly proving that Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber was born in Zimbabwe. However, AFP Fact Check found that his Wikipedia entry was changed several times in the space of a few hours after the cabinet announcement, before reverting to the original version created in 2020, which cites South Africa’s Namaqualand as Schreiber’s birthplace.    

“BREAKING NEWS: The Republic of South Africa demands answers as the DA Minister of Home Affairs Leon Schreiber who is alleged to a Zimbabwean foreigner is given a key position in country (sic)”, reads an X post published on June 30, 2024.

AFP Fact Check has debunked claims by this account in the past.

Its latest post includes four Wikipedia screenshots from Schreiber’s page: two highlight his new government role and two mark his birthplace as Zimbabwe.

Screenshot of the post showing the erroneous birthplace circled in red

The post adds: “On Wikipedia Leon’s place of birth was changed 5 hours ago from Zimbabwe to South Africa, this is happening while South Africa is watching.” 

Screenshot of the false X post, taken on July 3, 2024

The claim was shared thousands more times on X posts here and here. One of the accounts is dedicated to the anti-immigrant movement turned political party Put South Africa First, which AFP Fact Check has debunked multiple times.

The screenshots surfaced on June 30, just after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled his unity government, the first of its kind in the country after 30 years of rule by the ruling African National Congress (archived here). 

Schreiber was one of 20 ANC ministers to join the new cabinet as home affairs minister.

Wikipedia contributors

AFP Fact Check’s analysis of his Wikipedia page showed that it had been edited several times shortly after the new coalition was announced. 

The website states, “Wikipedia articles can be edited by anyone with Internet access, except in limited cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism” (archived here).

Screenshot taken from the Wikipedia website

Ramaphosa had been scheduled to give a speech at  09:00 pm (1900 GMT) but was delayed by around an hour. During this time frame, Schreiber’s profile was edited to allege that he was born in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Screenshot of Schreiber’s Wikipedia page revisions, taken on July 3, 2024

Anonymous users changed his birthplace several more times, claiming he was born in South Africa’s Cape Town at one point and Soweto at another.

After this battle of revisions, the birthplace was once again listed as Namaqualand in South Africa’s Northern Cape province on July 1.

This has been his birthplace on Wikipedia since the page was created in April 2020 (archived here).

Screenshot of the birthplace taken from the Wikipedia page version on April 21, 2020

Schreiber’s biography can also be found here and here (archived here and here). These entries have been online long before his appointment in 2024, and also say that he hails from Namaqualand. 

The home affairs minister addressed the rumours in an X post (archived here). 

Despite having one of the world's highest unemployment rates, South Africa attracts many economic migrants from elsewhere on the continent (archived here).

The influx, coupled with a dim economic outlook, has led to sporadic bursts of anti-immigrant violence in recent years.

As AFP reported, electoral candidates during this year’s campaigning further stoked the flames of online hate and disinformation by tapping into xenophobic sentiment and blaming foreigners for the nation's problems (archived here).

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