Only a few schools have shut so far in South Africa as third Covid-19 wave looms

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Multiple Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim that all schools in South Africa are closing this week. The claim is false: while a handful of schools were closed due to rising Covid-19 cases ahead of a looming third wave, the education department refuted the claims as false on May 25, 2021.

A Facebook post published on May 25, 2021, and shared more than 4,500 times includes an image purporting to show South Africa’s Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on national television discussing the closure of schools.

“Its confirmed Schools are closing tomorrow (sic),” the post’s caption reads.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on May 26, 2021

As South Africa faces a third wave of Covid-19, some schools have been forced to close in an effort to manage the spread of the virus, as reported by national media. This has led to a surge of misinformation about schools closing.

South Africa is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic on the continent, tallying 1,640,932 cases and 55,976 deaths as of May 25, 2021, official figures show.

The health ministry said that the country experienced a 17-percent increase in new cases compared to seven days prior, with experts (here and here) expecting the third wave to hit soon.

The Department of Basic Education’s spokesman Elijah Mhlanga told AFP Fact Check that claims about all schools closing are “fake ”.

Mhlanga said only around 15 out of approximately 25,000 schools were closed in recent weeks, and most of these have since reopened.

“What is required is strict adherence to health and safety protocols,” he added.

The misinformation spurred the department to release a statement on May 25, 2021, dispelling the rumours. 

“The Department wishes to dismiss this image as FAKE NEWS and continues to urge members of the public to be vigilant and verify sources of information they read before sharing it on social media,” the statement says.

The screenshot was taken from Motshekga’s announcement of final school results on February 22, 2021, on SABC News.

Although schools are open as of May 26, 2021, the Educators Union of SA (EUSA) has been calling for national closure after reports of an increase in Covid-19 infections among pupils and teachers.