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Illegal fake alcohol made in South Africa – or Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia? No, photos mostly snapped in Ivory Coast and Cameroon

IN SHORT: Counterfeit liquor can be deadly, and is illegally produced in South Africa. But a social message warning of the dangers of these “fake alcoholic beverages” uses photos of police raids elsewhere on the continent.

“Beware of fake alcoholic beverages being manufactured illegally in South Africa,” warns a message circulating on social media since February 2023.

It includes seven or eight photos of what seems to be a police raid. 

The first shows a man in a suit and glasses holding up a sheet of printed Jack Daniels whisky labels. A truck is behind him. Another is of a large bucket filled with a dark liquid. In a third, a man and woman stand in a room with bottles and boxes of liquor around them.

The rest of the photos show an array of bottles, buckets and boxes.

Illegally manufactured or counterfeit alcohol has been reported in South Africa. It’s cheaper than the real stuff, but it can be extremely dangerous. That’s because a cheaper and highly toxic form of alcohol called methanol is often added to the drink. 

Methanol is an industrial solvent used in antifreeze, paint thinners and varnish. Even in small amounts it can cause blindness, coma and death. In 2022, methanol was found in the blood of 21 teenagers who had died mysteriously in a tavern in the South African city of East London. 

The alcohol in legal liquor is ethanol, which is not poisonous in reasonable quantities.

But do the photos really show a counterfeit liquor operation in South Africa?

IllegalAlcohol_False

Adulterated alcohol seized in Ivory Coast

A Google reverse image search of the first photo led us to other instances of the claim, all from February 2023. One is on a news blog that said the photos were taken in Kenya. Another is a now-private Reddit post claiming they were snapped in Nigeria. A Facebook message claims they’re from Zambia.

But a comment on the Reddit post links to a French-language article on Abidjan.net, a news website based in the French-speaking West African country of Ivory Coast.

The article is a press release from the country’s trade and industry ministry. A machine translation of it reads: “The subdirectorate for the repression of fraud of the ministry in charge of trade and industry proceeded, this Thursday, February 9, 2023, to a significant seizure of bottles of adulterated alcohol in Anyama.” Anyama lies just north of Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan.

The article includes 15 photos. Three of them – the man in a suit and glasses, the bucket of dark liquid and another of rows of bottles – are used in the claim

A look at the rest of the article’s photos indicates that they were most probably taken in Ivory Coast, and certainly not in the countries of South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria or Zambia, where English is more widely spoken than French.

So three of the claim’s photos come from Ivory Coast. What about the rest?

Fake liquor factory in Cameroon

A Google search of the photo of the man and woman standing among boxes and bottles of liquor led us to several news reports out of Cameroon, a Central African country where French is also spoken.

According to the reports, a police patrol led to the discovery of an illegal counterfeit liquor factory in a warehouse in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. They reportedly found a barrel of ethanol, labels for counterfeit alcohol, caps, dyes, adulterated champagne and cannabis. A man and woman were arrested.

The reports show two of the photos used in the claim: of the man and woman, and another of bottles, boxes and what seem to be champagne fastenings.

Three of the photos were taken in Ivory Coast, and two in Cameroon. Africa Check could not determine the origin of the remaining three photos, but also found no evidence they were taken in South Africa. 

We rate the claim as false.

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