Unmasking TikTok’s bogus ‘Dr’ Matthew Bongani Lani

Unmasking TikTok’s bogus ‘Dr’ Matthew Bongani Lani
‘Dr Matthew’ had nearly 300,000 followers on TikTok to whom he dished out medical advice and peddled his concoctions. (Photos: TikTok)

The popular TikTok medical advice guru turns out to be someone rather more ordinary.

The problem of individuals faking qualifications and scamming people on social media is a global issue and not confined to South Africa. One person who has come under scrutiny is “Dr Matthew Bongani Lani”. Who is he, and what lies behind his facade?

Born and raised in North West but claiming Johannesburg as his home, Lani gained notoriety for sharing medical advice on his TikTok feed, which has since been shut down.

With almost 300,000 followers, Lani portrayed himself as a knowledgeable medical advice guru, often wearing scrubs and a stethoscope around his neck. He was occasionally seen in hospital corridors.

Lani’s grandiose claims included being a graduate of Wits Medical School and the youngest doctor to own a South African pharmaceutical company. He used this company, Immuno Bloom, to promote his “Mokhaba pills”. He also professed to be the chief executive of an NGO called Greater than Aids. Both entities are registered under the name Matthew Bongani Lani.

Lani boasted he had skipped three school grades – 4, 6 and 8 – and had started medical school at the age of 16.

What’s in a name?

When questioned about his credentials in a live TikTok session, after widespread scepticism and after institutions had disassociated themselves from him, Lani offered a startling revelation: “Me saying Dr Matthew is a pseudonym. It’s like a stage name. It’s not my real name as per my ID.”

Instead, he claimed his real name was Sanele Zingelwa and insisted he was a medical doctor with a specialisation as a general practitioner.

Despite his elaborate claims, reputable institutions, including Wits, the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the Gauteng Department of Health, denied having records of Lani’s medical education.

The Gauteng Department of Education stated Lani lacked a matric certificate, and said he had been referred to Gresswold Senior School for learners with special education needs in Kew, Johannesburg, in 2010. He had disappeared from the school system after 2012.

The department said he had re-emerged in 2016 at the Fourways Adult Centre as a part-time student, but his results had been less than stellar.

Stolen identity

So how did Lani gain access to hospitals to create video content? The Gauteng Department of Health revealed he had manipulated his way into the system, falsely posing as an intern at Helen Joseph Hospital and wandering around after his intern placement in June 2022.

According to the department, Lani had stolen the identity of a second-year medical intern at Tembisa Tertiary Hospital, Dr Sanele Sobani Vambani Zingelwa, who had trained as a doctor in Cuba, not at Wits.

Zingelwa has since filed a complaint of identity fraud against Lani and the department has lodged a case of impersonation against him.

In a statement, Lani acknowledged the multiple cases against him and said he was consulting his legal team.

“I have not been convicted of any crime. I am innocent until proven guilty and I intend to vigorously defend myself against all the charges against me.

“I am not being silenced by the government or any other powerful entity. I am choosing to remain silent at this time because I want to avoid saying anything that could jeopardise my legal case,” the statement reads.

Lani rose to popularity on social media after saying that he had successfully sued his former partner for infecting him with HIV. He claimed to have received more than R600,000.

Not an isolated case

Lani is far from being the only fake doctor making headlines. The Hawks have been actively seeking three bogus doctors, aged between 37 and 53, facing charges of fraud and contravention of the Medicines and Related Substances Act and the Health Professions Act. They are Bunnel Kitete Tunda, Jeremy Liyongo Bompemo and a third man known only as Doctor Kolwa.

Their original arrests in 2018 followed allegations that they were operating without licences, dispensing medication and issuing medical certificates while using legitimate doctors’ details and practice numbers in areas between Bellville and Khayelitsha in Western Cape.

They have been on the run since their last court appearance, when they were released on R5,000 bail each.

A former chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee, has come out to say she has been a victim of impersonation. She told TimesLIVE someone had stolen her identity on social media to sell health products.

The Health Professions Council reported that more than 120 fake doctors, both South Africans and foreign nationals, had been arrested in the country in the past three years. The spokesperson for the council, Christopher Tsatsawane, said it was working to eradicate “unscrupulous, bogus healthcare practitioners” operating in South African communities.

To avoid falling for a fake doctor, you can check with the Health Professions Council at 012 338 9301 or if you want to confirm whether someone is a registered medical practitioner. You also have the right to ask to see the practitioner’s certificate from the council. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page 14 October


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