South Africa


#putsouthafricansfirst: Spreading hate speech, inciting violence, breaking the law

#putsouthafricansfirst: Spreading hate speech, inciting violence, breaking the law
Illustrative image | Source: Rawpixel/Stickpng

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change, based at UCT, submitted a series of tweets which included #putsouthafricansfirst to Real411 for assessment. Real411 is affiliated to Media Monitoring Africa and enables the public to report disinformation, hate speech, incitement to violence and harassment of the media. The findings have thrown light on what constitutes hate speech and incitement to violence on social media – and shown that some accounts are breaking the law with impunity and sowing social discord in full view.

Some social media accounts associated with the #putsouthafricansfirst movement are using the hashtag to spread hate speech and incite violence.

The #putsouthafricansfirst hashtag was first used by politician Herman Mashaba’s Twitter account on 27 April this year. The post was accompanied by a video of various crimes allegedly committed by foreigners. No proof was provided to back the allegations.

On the same day, an account named @uLeratoPillay used the hashtag in six posts.

Since April, the PSAF movement has blamed foreign nationals for a wide range of social issues. Now #putsouthafricansfirst has become the second most popular hashtag on South African Twitter. Trailing only the #covid19 hashtag, #putsouthafricansfirst has been used in 393,000 tweets and generated more than a billion impressions so far – gaining great influence.

In this open letter to the media, the movement claimed it was patriotic, peaceful and non-violent. But some accounts central to the movement have bordered on encouraging hate and condoning violence towards foreigners. Nearly all prominent PSAF accounts are careful not to publish content that meets the legal definition of hate speech or incitement to violence.

But Real411’s Digital Complaints Committee, which adjudicates each complaint based on strict legal criteria, found clear evidence of hate speech in some of the movement’s tweets submitted by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) at the University of Cape Town.

Eleven instances of hate speech or incitement to violence were confirmed by Real411. Of the eight posts classified as incitement to violence, four were red (meeting all the criteria of the offence) and four were yellow (meeting some of the criteria, but not all).

The three posts classified as hate speech were all yellow.

All 10 accounts that authored these posts were connected to the PSAF movement.

Here is a brief description of each complaint and the account’s connection to PSAF.

Incitement to Violence (red) Submission 794

This post was a clear example of incitement to violence by an account that was actively involved with the PSAF movement. The account’s profile information includes only the #putsouthafricansfirst hashtag and has tweeted 942 posts using various PSAF hashtags. Nearly half of these were original posts such as the tweet pictured above. Real411 noted: “The replies in the thread were even more concerning as they illustrate that the author is inciting responses of a violent nature (One of the responses to the tweet makes reference to necklacing.)”

Incitement to Violence (red) Submissions 863 & 896

Real411 found that both these posts met all criteria for incitement to violence. Tweet 863 and “responses thereto call for an organised and funded assassination programme against Nigerians in South Africa”. The adjudicator calls the post “incredibly concerning, extremely alarming and deplorable”.

The @BrooXola account is not central to the PSAF movement but has shown its support for the movement. On 3 August 2020 it tweeted: “Change is needed in this country ASAP. #PutSouthAfricansFirst.”

Incitement to Violence (red) Submission 892

Real411 found that this post amounted to “a call to ‘attack’ foreigners who ‘work in jobs South Africans can do’ as well as ‘the companies employing them’”, and, “It might reasonably be expected that the natural and probable consequences of this publication would, under the circumstances, be the commission of public violence.”

@SANEEDSAWALL is a fairly prominent account in the PSAF movement and engages with xenophobic content on a regular basis. The account’s profile information features nationalist rhetoric and has posted 159 tweets with PSAF hashtags, 114 of which were original content.

Incitement to Violence (yellow) Submission 898

Real411 found that the author of this tweet made an “outright call to ‘shoot to kill’ that served as a strong and clear call to commit violence targeting foreign nationals. The submission was classified as yellow because “the call is not to the general public but an expression of a desire for ‘soldiers’ to do so”.

@Mobjusticesa is not a central PSAF account, but does interact with the movement’s xenophobic content on a regular basis. The account has retweeted posts with PSAF hashtags 57 times and authored original content with PSAF hashtags eight times (including the above post).

Incitement to Violence (yellow) Submission 817

Real411 found that the statement made in the wording (“attacking” and the hashtag #VoetsekNigerians), and the image, could inspire violence towards foreign nationals. The submission was classified as yellow because the incitement to violence was implicit and the user called on people to attack buildings not people.

Although this account does not mention PSAF in its profile information, it does list @T_Holeni_ as a “back up account”. The account name for the handle @T_Holeni_ is “Tlangelani #PutSouthAfricansFirst”. The main account (@T_Holeni) has posted 14 tweets with the PSAF hashtags, two of which were original content.

Incitement to Violence (yellow) Submission 824

This tweet was an example of an implicit call to violence made by a central account in the PSAF network. Real411 found: “This tweet contains elements of incitement but does not meet all the criteria as the initial tweet was not specific in naming the locations and the nature of the action to be taken. This suggested that the user had knowledge of the legal criteria used to determine whether or not social media content would be judged as hate speech or incitement to violence.” 

@Maps_pj, whose profile information reads “Concerned citizen| #PutSouthAfricansFirst (Flag of South Africa)| Nationalist (Flag of South Africa)” has used PSAF hashtags in 815 tweets, 198 of which were original content. At times, this account publishes 60 or more hate-filled, xenophobic original posts per day. Content tweeted and retweeted by this account almost exclusively advocates the PSAF agenda.

Incitement to Violence (yellow) Submission 869

Real411 found that “the post contains one of the elements of Incitement to Violence but not the others”. The account, whose profile picture is the official logo of the PSAF movement, has used PSAF hashtags in 375 tweets. 190 of these were original content.

Hate Speech (yellow) Submission 860

Real411 ruled that this tweet met “some of the criteria of both disinformation and hate speech but not all”. @buwagp is another prominent account in the PSAF network. In addition to an account name and profile information that contains the #PutSouthAfricansFirst hashtag, this account has posted more than 1,000 tweets containing PSAF hashtags. Of these, 230 were original posts. The account interacts exclusively with the PSAF narrative. This suggests that it exists only to promote the PSAF cause and does not represent a genuine user expressing their views.

Hate Speech (yellow) Submission 871

Real411 ruled that although this tweet met some of the requirements of hate speech, it called on the police to take action and therefore did not meet the incitement to harm requirement. This post was “extremely problematic” and fuelled “hatred and xenophobia”.

The account’s profile features nationalist rhetoric and has used the PSAF hashtags 71 times. The majority of these posts were retweets – only five were original posts. This suggests that the user is actively promoting the PSAF narrative but is not a central figure in the network.

Hate Speech (yellow) Submission 822

Real411 found that the absence of harm incitement in this tweet disqualified meeting the legal criteria for hate speech. However, the content was “planting seeds for hate speech”.

This account is not central to the PSAF network but does occasionally post xenophobic remarks. In this tweet, the user expresses their support for the PSAF movement.

These findings indicate that not all followers of the #putsouthafricansfirst movement are inciting violence or spreading hate speech.

But those who are blatantly guilty of these offences are not being held to account by the movement’s leadership, and the long arm of the law is yet to bring them to book. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Nor being tech savvy (social media)…what I find perplexing is the issue of how it is possible for the individuals who post this kind of open hatred and call to violence, not to be identified ? Is some sort of absolute blanket protection of ‘identity’ in the world of ‘social media’ ? Are there no rules or laws that govern social media behaviour by those who use them ?

  • Trevor-john Gunter says:

    Julius Malema’s hate speech, exciting violence and so forth happens everyday and publicized over the radio channels and nothing is done about it!!!
    This type of hatred must be stopped in it’s tracks “RIGHT NOW”

  • Karen Moodley says:

    “incredibly concerning, extremely alarming and deplorable” is 100% correct. Cannot fathom 1) how one can have this level of animosity towards other humans 2) how comments of this nature are permitted on online/social/public platforms. Zero recourse due to “anonymity”? There are ways around this if you’re serious about curtailing attempts at societal divisiveness. What’s truly scary is the propensity for snowball effects on mob mentality that these grievous incitements have on society at large. Shudder.

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