IN SHORT: Video and photos circulated widely on South African social media with the claim they showed a would-be bomber being escorted out of a sports stadium by police. But the truth was much more benign – the man was setting up legal fireworks to go off at the end of the soccer final.
South African social media was ablaze in November 2023 with reports of a bomb threat at a local stadium. The claim appears to have originated with a video showing uniformed officers escorting a person through rows of seats in the stadium, holding what social media users claimed was a bomb.
Another version of the claim showed photos of the supposed bomber and bombs, mostly captioned something like: “This guy was taken from where I am seated at the stadium, he was planting a bomb. We alerted cops in time, loftus it's not safe.”
But what really happened at the stadium?
Police warns public about false accusations of bomb threats
On 12 November, Loftus Versfeld stadium in the city of Tshwane hosted the final of the African Football League. The match was between South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca and was reportedly attended by a capacity crowd. Sundowns won the match.
News of a bomb threat at the match would have made headlines across the country. But when we searched for reports in the mainstream media, we only found articles with headlines like “No bomb at Mamelodi Sundowns' AFL final at Loftus, police confirm”
But almost as quickly as the posts spread, claiming there had been a bomb at the stadium, spokesperson for the South African Police Service Athlende Mathe responded on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. He tweeted: “The person in this video and picture is a service provider who was contracted to supply & display pyrotechnics (fireworks) displays at the end of the game.”
In the photos posted, the supposed would-be bomber can be seen wearing a shirt with a Starburst Pyrotechnics company logo, and a lanyard that says “African Football League” with an accreditation pass.
In the statement the company said it had been “appointed by the management of the league to shoot pyrotechnics [fireworks] and confetti for the winner of the finals” and that “all permits were issued and all safety and police authorities were notified”.
Despite appearances, the man filmed and photographed at the final of the 2023 African Football League at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Tshwane, South Africa was setting up legal fireworks, not a bomb.
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