South Africa

THE AFTERMATH

Hawks arrest two Twitter users allegedly linked to incitement of July looting and unrest

Hawks arrest two Twitter users allegedly linked to incitement of July looting and unrest
The N3 between Durban and Pietermaritzburg was closed by people burning tyres and dumping sand on the highway on 9 July 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Law enforcement appears to be closing in on some of those responsible for orchestrating the unrest and looting that gripped KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July, with two more suspected instigators arrested on Saturday. Both were arrested for allegedly using social media platforms to incite public violence.

In a statement on Sunday, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) confirmed that a 35-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman had been arrested in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal respectively on charges of incitement to commit public violence. 

The suspect in KwaZulu-Natal was allegedly involved in the incitement of public violence using social media and other platforms during the July unrest in the province. 

“As a result, Brookside Mall in Pietermaritzburg was broken into and criminal activities, such as theft of goods, occurred. During the incident the mall was set alight by the suspects,” said Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale. 

The man is expected to appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

The second suspect was arrested on Saturday during a search and seizure operation in Leondale, Gauteng, which resulted in the confiscation of items. The woman allegedly operated a popular Twitter account, Sphithiphithi Evaluator (@_AfricanSoil), with 63,175 followers. The last tweet from the suspect’s account, which was created in January 2013, was at 3.27pm on Saturday afternoon. 

The woman is expected to appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrates’ Court on Monday on charges of incitement to commit public violence. 

Following the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC), a non-profit organisation established to track and counter misinformation and disinformation and divisive rhetoric online, identified 12 Twitter accounts that were central to the unrest. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Meet the instigators: The Twitter accounts of the RET forces network that incited violence and demanded Zuma’s release

The 12 accounts — four of which belong to the RET forces network — engaged with violence-inciting hashtags intended to incite an uprising and unrest, according to the CABC’s research.

The CABC’s investigation found that UnknownITellYou (@TellUnknown) was the Twitter account that used the most hashtags connected with incitement to violence — 1,577 in July. The @_AfricanSoil account — an account which had previously been identified by the CABC “as the central content-creating account in the online RET network” — was found to be the most retweeted account by @TellUnknown. 

In CABC’s research into the top 12 accounts, the organisation also found that most of the content posted by the accounts perpetuating incitement-to-violence rhetoric was not original, and nine of the 12 accounts retweeted more content from @_AfricanSoil than any other user. 

The CABC’s report, The Dirty Dozen and the amplification of incendiary content during the outbreak of unrest in South Africa July 2021, also identified the @_AfricanSoil account as contributing to “calls for physical mobilisation” during the unrest. DM

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  • Charles Parr says:

    After all the bravado about knowing who the high level instigators were there have been very few arrests and even those seem to be small fry.

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