Maverick Life


The disinformation campaign against Zweli Mkhize

The disinformation campaign against Zweli Mkhize
Image composite: Maverick Life. Original photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki

The way disinformation has been allowed to spread is disheartening, and poor Dr Mkhize is just the latest victim of the war on truth.

Dear diary,


Yesterday I found out that yet another friend of mine had received the ancestral calling to become a sangoma. And still my ancestors remain mum, not even a ghostly WhatsApp. Whatever. I should probably stop with the navel-gazing; if the ancestors do not wish me to partake in the game of bones, that is their prerogative. But I have a pretty good idea which one of them is blocking my application and when I get to the other side he will have a lot to answer for.

Anyway, there are bigger issues in the world of the living to deal with than being snubbed by spiteful types from the other side. In fact, some issues are of particular concern to me and my colleagues, such as the ever-increasing tendency towards misinformation. It’s become so much worse lately; artificial intelligence has made it a breeze for some bad actors to get incredibly good at making “deepfake” videos. Game of Clones, if you will.

Just the other day, I came across a video of Dr Zweli Mkhize, our country’s former health minister, apparently accepting a nomination to contest the presidency of the ruling party, and presumably to become the president of the country when the time comes. What a thing! The man only recently left his position after revelations that, under his watch, the Department of Health redirected R150-million of public funds towards his former personal assistant and a close associate. Members of his family also allegedly benefited from the tender.

Naturally, he did the right thing and stepped down. Now the whole thing is now being investigated by the Hawks. I, for one, have no doubt the good doctor is keeping a low profile while trying to clear his name, probably somewhere on one of his farms, keeping as quiet as my ancestors and maybe occasionally stepping out to visit his daughter-in-law’s beauty parlour for a mani and pedi.

To seek the highest office in the land after such a scandal would require Zumangous cahoonas. Only one man owns that special set and he has made it absolutely clear he would never let another man’s hands anywhere near them, no matter how well manicured.

Image composite: Maverick Life. Original photos by Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki

Yet, says the undoubtedly deepfake digital vibe of Mr Mkhize in the opening lines of a supposed nomination acceptance video: “My name is Zweli Mkhize.” Yeah right. “A member of the ANC in good standing.” Uuhmm … okay. “My branch has joined numerous other branches across the length and breadth of our country in nominating me to contest the position of the ANC president at our upcoming 55th national conference… I am humbled… and confirm that I am ready to serve.” The only thing that bot is ready to serve is a frightening lack of charisma and screen presence.

While Dr Mkhize may not be in good standing with the Hawks, I’ll give it to that dull excuse for a deepfake that he could still be in good standing with the ANC. Accusations that one facilitated the redistribution of a coupla hundred mil mid-panny is not the worst thing to be accused of in the ruling party; it’s not even a full Nkandla upgrade, barely a firepool.

Still, even though this digitally generated bot may have incorporated some facts into its writing, I struggle to believe the organisation’s branches “across the length and breadth” of our impoverished country took a long look at the very real Dr Mkhize, let their neurons fire away with reckless abandon and decided, “Ja no, that’s our guy, that’s the one to liberate us from corruption.”

I get that South Africans are, by our very nature, deeply committed traditionalists and over the past couple of decades we have steadily redefined the presidency and established new traditions. Never before has a South African president served a full two terms. This is our tradition now; this is a big part of what makes us 21st century South Africans. To let anyone serve a second term in full would break with this modern tradition.

But, back in the day, at least they used to wait until they got into office before brazenly redirecting public funds towards their pockets and friends’ and family bank accounts. That too is part of our tradition. Hence, to elect Mkhize now would be to break with another fine tradition. I know us, I know us really well, and breaking with tradition is not our vibe, digitally or otherwise. Putin’s got enough on his hands, and he must keep his poorly realised deepfakes off our screens.

This unconvincing bot goes on to insult our intelligence: “The very existence of our movement as a revolutionary tool for improving the quality of the lives of our people is under threat.” As I have written in this diary many times before, I, a queer black man, am all too aware of the role the ruling organisation and others have played in my liberation from those who would simply categorise me as a k***ir m**fie and mete out the appropriate violent punishment.

Howevz, even Dr Mkhize would admit that anyone who would describe the 21st century version of our ruling party as a “revolutionary tool for improving the quality of the lives of our people”, must be snorting some really bad  RETex and washing it down with a gallon of seriously contaminated firepool water. Were this video for real, I suppose the good doctor’s skills at redirecting funds could come in handy for the organisation’s empty coffers.

Even my bag of throwing bones, albeit ones yet to get full ancestral approval, has revealed to me that the video is a fake. But, perhaps even more frightening, they tell me of another Zuma on the horizon. But, who knows, maybe my bones have been captured by that one cantankerous ancestor. DM/ML


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