People in South Africa have been sharing screenshots of this alarming text message, supposedly sent by the government, on Facebook since 9 July 2020.
“We apologised to send you this message but atleast your Grave has been prepared and you don t have to be cremated without your approval,” it says. It’s signed “SA.Gov”.
Each version seems to give the recipient’s name, and has a different “grave number”. The message has understandably angered and upset many people.
South Africa now has the world’s eighth-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases. But is the government really advising people, alive and possibly healthy, that their graves are ready? No, that’s dead wrong.
A grave matter
Graves are being prepared for Covid-19 deaths, but a lively debate has broken out about how many are being dug and how many the country might need.
Africa Check found reports that a million graves were being prepared in Gauteng province alone were incorrect.
The Gauteng government clarified that the province’s municipalities had a total capacity for a million graves, but that wasn’t the number being prepared. And a national minister said the government was not “expecting and preparing for 1 million Covid-19 related deaths”.
But that did not stop the hashtag #1MillionGraves from trending on Twitter, with some users also referencing the text message.
The message is a hoax. This was confirmed by Athi Geleba, head of digital communications for South Africa’s presidency. She tweeted two versions of the message with “FAKE” written across them.
— Athi Geleba ?? #StaySafe (@AthiGeleba) July 9, 2020
But there are more immediate signs that the message isn’t what it claims to be.
Relax and ignore it
The first clue is that the message is poorly written, full of grammar and spelling mistakes – “we apologised to send you”, “atleast”, “don t”.
It would be unusual for the government to send out an official communication with this many errors. And bad writing is often a sign of disinformation.
The next sign is “SA.Gov”, the way the message is signed. Smartphones would interpret this as a web address, and it looks like one, but according to WhoIs.com, the site sa.gov does not exist.
The address of the real South African government website is gov.za, and most national government websites end with .gov.za. Any government communication will be clearly labelled as such, and will only direct you to official websites.
The message is fake. Don’t be alarmed, and ignore it. – Keegan Leech
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.