“The Real Nelson Mandela died in 1985,” begins a long Facebook post that has been viewed more than a million times since it was shared on 6 July 2021.
Several other accounts have shared an identical message. But the most popular, shared more than 47,000 times, was posted by an account claiming to belong to Buntu Petse, a South African actor. She is best known for her role as Nontle Majola on the popular soap opera Generations: The Legacy.
But while the Facebook account sharing the Mandela story is under the name “Nontle Majola”, Petse says on Twitter that her official Facebook account is “Bontle Petse Actor”.
So at least one of the accounts sharing this message is fake, but are the claims true?
Mandela spoke isiXhosa, wore traditional clothing
The post claims that “Mandela never said a Xhosa word or Sentence in any of his speeches” and “We Never Saw Him Wearing Xhosa Traditional Clothes”. But neither is true.
There are also multiple videos of Mandela speaking isiXhosa, his mother tongue. He even addressed a crowd in isiXhosa outside Cape Town city hall directly after his release from prison on 11 February 1990.
Others from Rivonia trial lived long public lives
The post also claims that eight others who were sentenced to imprisonment alongside Mandela were not released: “They We're 9 Accused But Nelson Mandela Come Back Alone.”
But this is also false.
The post appears to refer to the Rivonia trial, in which Mandela was sentenced to imprisonment, along with seven other defendants of the 11, not nine, who were accused.
The post lists several people, including Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni, who were all defendants at the trial. It claims that “we dont know what happened to them” and “We only Know The Names But we never saw them”.
Bizos, Joffe and De Wet not defendants in Rivonia Trial
The post also mentions several people who were not in fact defendants in the trial or ever imprisoned. George Bizos was an attorney and Joel Joffe a lawyer who represented the defendants.
But their lives – and deaths – were also documented. Bizos helped draft South Africa’s new constitution, and represented the families of those killed at the Marikana massacre in one of his last major trials as a lawyer. He died in 2020.
Accounts sharing conspiracy theory reference other debunked claims
Several of the social media accounts sharing this false claim have also shared a photo used in another claim Africa Check has previously debunked. It says a mole visible in photos of Mandela as a young man moved to the other side of his face later in his life.
However, as we pointed out before, this isn’t because Mandela was replaced by a double, but because the photos were flipped.
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.