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No, photos don’t show immigrants in South Africa arrested for producing fake alcohol and are unconnected to Enyobeni Tavern tragedy

Several social media users in South Africa have published photos of what appears to be an informal alcohol distillery. The images show bottles, labels and boxes of well-known alcohol brands, as well as two men lying face down with their arms handcuffed behind their backs.

Some users have claimed that the men were among 10 foreigners “arrested in East London for making fake alcohol”. East London is a coastal city in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.

In June 2022, 21 people were found dead in Enyobeni Tavern in East London. Most of the dead were teenagers under the legal drinking age of 18. Social media users have said “fake alcohol” caused the deaths.

But are these claims true?


Photos from KwaZulu-Natal province, unrelated to Enyobeni Tavern deaths 

Almost everything about these claims is false, starting with the fact that the photos don’t show East London, or even the Eastern Cape.

A Google reverse image search revealed the photos were taken in Newcastle, in KwaZulu-Natal province, and had nothing to do with Enyobeni Tavern.

Police told local newspaper the Newcastillian on 4 July that they had “arrested four suspects aged between 19 and 65 for being in possession of counterfeit goods” on 30 June. 

The nationalities of the four suspects – not 10 – were not disclosed by police, and there is no evidence that the suspects were from outside South Africa.

There is no connection between the incident and Enyobeni Tavern.

Cause of deaths at tavern not ‘fake’ alcohol

The cause of the Enyobeni disaster had not been determined at the time of writing. Early toxicology reports detected carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, in the blood of the victims. This led to media reports that the deaths had been caused by petrol fumes from a generator running in the tavern.

Investigators have dismissed this rumour. Officials from the Eastern Cape department of health’s forensic pathology services told news outlet TimesLive that it was “highly unlikely the cause of death was fumes from a generator”. They said media reports suggesting otherwise were “completely untrue”.

Experts said investigations into the cause of the deaths were still ongoing, and asked the public to refrain from speculating about the investigations.

Xenophobia driving false claims and calls for violence

Many of the Facebook and Twitter posts sharing these claims have linked to the same article or quoted from it exactly. Published on website, which claims to publish “breaking news”, the article uses xenophobic language and seems to have introduced many of the false aspects of this claim.

Xenophobia is the hatred or fear of people from other countries. Let’s trace the origins of this claim from fact to fiction.

At some point, photos of the illegal Newcastle distillery and arrests were posted on a popular South African Facebook page with nearly 400,000 followers, Blessings Ramoba Blog. The photos were captioned: “They must go.”

The post did not claim outright that the distillery was run by so-called “foreign nationals”, and didn’t mention Enyobeni Tavern. However, the phrase “they must go” implied that foreigners were responsible for the illegal distillery, and should be forced to leave South Africa. 

It is a common xenophobic stereotype that most crimes are committed by immigrants. 

The authors of the Edge Search article appear to have picked up on the xenophobic Facebook post. The article included a screenshot from the post and seems to have taken many of its claims from replies to the post, in some cases quoting replies almost word-for-word.

One reply reads: “‘They must go home’ is the song we have been singing for years and we shall continue to sing it, this people aint going nowhere!”

Part of the Edge Search article reads: “We have been singing ‘They must go home’ for years, and we will continue to sing it since this population is not going anywhere!”

Another paragraph reads: “The president, legislators, and police officers are all corrupt, and the constitution is a joke. South Africans, you are doing a fantastic job of attaining the status of Zimbabwe.” 

This is almost identical to another Facebook comment: “The president is corrupt, politicians are corrupt, police man are corrupt, the constitution is a micky mouse. Congratulations south africans we are really doing well in achieving the status of Zimbabwe”.

Social media spreads unsubstantiated rumours

Several replies to the Facebook post also speculated that the Enyobeni Tavern deaths may have been caused by illegally produced alcohol. 

The Edge Search article repeated this without evidence, and the claim spread further on social media and elsewhere as though it were fact.

The Facebook post falsely implied that the distillery pictured was run by immigrants and the Edge Search published this as though it were fact. The article added more (false) details, including how many people were arrested and where.

These claims then spread on social media, often without any context showing they came from an unreliable source.

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