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No, video does not show looting in South Africa by opposition party to protest sale of Israeli products

IN SHORT: Posts on social media claim a video shows looting in October 2023 of South African retailer Woolworths because of its stocking of Israeli products. But the video is from 2021 and the looting was unrelated to Israel-Palestine.

Please note: This fact-checking report includes details about a breaking news story. Information was, as far as possible, correct at time of publication but may change rapidly. 

A video has been posted to Facebook in November 2023 with claims it shows looting and trashing of a Woolworths store by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in an attempt to stop the chain from selling Israeli products.

“Die EFF oor Woolworhs Israeli produkte verkoop,” one post reads, Afrikaans for, roughly, “The EFF because Woolworths sells Israeli products”. Others are more overtly racist, suggesting the black people responsible for the looting should be “shot in droves”. 

The EFF is an opposition political party in South Africa. Woolworths is a South African retailer which sells clothes, household goods and food.

The decades-old conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated on 7 October when Palestinian militant group Hamas entered Israel from Gaza, killing 1,400 people and taking over 240 as hostages. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip, a narrow territory that lies mainly within Israel, since 2007.

Israel responded by bombing Gaza and declared war on Hamas on 8 October. As of 9 November, more than 10,500 people had been killed within Gaza, including at least 4,324 children.

The claims in the social media posts came after the EFF declared support for Palestine and called for the closure of the Israeli embassy in South Africa.

The video shows someone walking up a stopped escalator of a shopping mall with damaged and discarded goods littering the escalator and floor. The person walks to the top of the escalator and turns towards the Woolworths store, which also looks looted.

“I want to show you the absolute carnage and mess that is here up to the Woolworths here at the Watercrest Mall,” a man presumably filming the video can be heard saying. “Looters are running past me … they are unaffected. Old Khaki [store] is trashed … Oh, I can hear screams now. Woolworths is completely trashed.”

He goes on to tell people to forward the video to others so they can know “what has been done here”. He doesn’t mention the EFF or Israel.

The same video has been posted on Twitter here, here and here and on YouTube here with the same claim. Subscribers also sent it to us on WhatsApp on our Africa Check line and our “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” line.

But does this video really show the aftermath of EFF looting in 2023 to protest Woolworths selling Israeli products? We checked.

False claim about looting at a mall

Video did the rounds in 2021

A quick Google search for the name of the TikTok user in the video and the keywords “Watercrest Mall loot” brought up the user’s account.

TikTok video of looting at a mall

But the post and user account have been deleted. 

We then searched the caption of the video visible on the Google page: “Walking behind police as we flush out looters at Watercrest Mall KZN.” This brought up the same user profile along with the hashtags #zumariots and #standtogethersa.

TikTok search results showing multiple hashtags

We clicked on the hashtags and found the same video published by another TikTok user on 13 July 2021. The video can also be found on Facebook, posted around the same time.

The video was doing the rounds in 2021, so it can’t show an incident from 2023. But what event does it actually show?

Video matches photos of incident from 2021

A Google reverse image search of a snippet of the video brought us to an article by East Coast Radio, a commercial radio station, reporting on incidents of looting in Durban in 2021.

Durban is a coastal city in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

The article, dated 13 July 2021, said the Watercrest Mall in Durban had become a target for looters who had raided multiple stores for several hours into the night.

The second supplied image in the article is of debris spread over two escalators. A blue piece of fabric on the escalator can be seen in both the image and in the video:

Comparison identifying the source of a video

The video and image also both show the same two stores, Tarquin’s and Woolworths:

Visual comparison determining where video was filmed

‘All stores are open for trade and void of any protest action’ says mall

Watercrest Mall’s official Facebook page also posted a statement on 7 November 2023 denying that the video was of a recent event: 

Watercrest Mall has been notified of an old video taken in 2021 currently being shared on social platforms again.

Centre Management would like to confirm this is in fact old footage taken 2 years ago of the mall and that the mall and all stores are open for trade and void of any protest action.

On 7 July 2021, South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma was arrested after being found guilty for failure to appear before the commission of inquiry into fraud and corruption in the public sector.

Soon after his arrest, there was widespread looting and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal, with damage costing millions of rands.

Durban’s Watercrest Mall was one of the worst-hit properties during the unrest, according to News24.

While the video doing the rounds on social media does show looting at Watercrest Mall in Durban, it is from 2021. It does not show looting by the EFF in 2023 because of Woolworths selling Israeli products.

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