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Video shows South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa having his temperature taken, not having a ‘chip’ scanned

IN SHORT: A video of Cyril Ramaphosa having his temperature taken – a common health screening measure at airports – has been misinterpreted on social media. False claims about the video have their roots in common conspiracy theories, but are easily debunked.

A video of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa arriving back in the country, after travelling to New York City for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, has been widely shared on social media.

Users on Facebook and X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, have pointed out that after he stepped off the Inkwazi presidential plane, an airport official scanned Ramaphosa’s right hand. 

The video was also shared with Africa Check via WhatsApp. 

“Is hy ge-chip…. Hoekom scan hulle sy hand. Wat gaan hier aan?” asks one post. This Afrikaans caption translates to: “Is he chipped? Why do they scan his hand? What is going on here?”

This post and many others about the video reference common but thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories about people being implanted with microchips. 

For example, in 2020, Africa Check debunked a claim that South Africans would be, without their knowledge, given a “new ID” in the form of a radio frequency identification tag implanted under their skin. The claim is false, but many posts sharing the video of Ramaphosa claim that he “has the Chip in his right hand”.

But what’s really going on here?

Forwarded WhatsApp message with a false claim about Cyril Ramaphosa

Video shows Ramaphosa having his temperature taken

The video was originally posted on TikTok by the presidency’s head of digital communications, Athi Geleba. This is clear from Geleba’s TikTok handle,  @AthiGeleba, which is visible as a watermark in the videos.

Geleba posted the video on 21 September 2023. The following day, in response to a comment asking “What is that scan for? Is it for temperature like the Covid ones or is it something else?”, Geleba commented: “Temperature scan.”

Airports often take passengers’ temperature in order to screen for contagious diseases, including Covid-19. This is of limited effectiveness, but can detect some cases of diseases which cause fever, or a raised temperature.

Model of handheld thermal camera

The device that is pointed at Ramaphosa’s hand in the video is a thermal camera. This kind of camera detects infrared light, which is emitted by hot objects but is invisible to humans. 

The thermal camera in the video is almost certainly one of the Ex model handheld cameras developed by thermal imaging technology company Teledyne FLIR. Although the video is blurry, several details are visible which allow the device to be identified.

Most obvious, the shape of the device matches those of the FLIR E4, E5, E6, and similar models. All of these models are also black, but with distinctive silver accents near the bottom of the handle, and the camera lens. These can be seen in the video of Ramaphosa.

The FLIR logo, while indistinct, can be made out on the side of the camera. Another logo or sticker appears to have been added beneath it. The logo is also visible on a black case that the man with the camera carries away after scanning Ramaphosa.

These details, including identical cases, are all clearly visible in this 2013 video advertising the FLIR Ex models.

Microchip conspiracy theories a confusing mess of misinformation

Claims that vaccines are a cover for secretly implanting people with microchips enjoyed a boost in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, connected to other conspiracy theories about vaccines. These can be traced back to the earliest vaccines

Conspiracy theories suggest that vaccines represent the Biblical “mark of the beast” and reveal a pact with the devil or Satan. These ideas have been modernised over time and the mark is now depicted as a microchip, barcode or tattoo. Because of the many changes these conspiracy theories have undergone, they can be confusing and difficult to decipher.

In this case, while some social media posts have associated Ramaphosa’s “chip” with the mark of the beast, there are several other conspiracy theories in the mix. Many refer to “new world order” or NWO conspiracy theories, which are false claims with antisemitic origins. They suggest that a hidden cabal of powerful (typically, Jewish) elites is working to control people across the globe.

One post on X asks: “DOES ‘CYRIL RAMAPHOSA’ HAVE THE NWO ‘CHIP’ IN HIS HAND?” A Facebook post, which alludes to some of the antisemitic elements of the NWO conspiracy theory, also claims that microchips are being specifically implanted in African people because “Foreigners are terrified of hordes of blacks so if they're chipped they can use technology to kill them”.

There is no evidence for any of these claims. They, and similar related claims spread in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, have been debunked over and over and over again. As with these videos of Ramaphosa having his temperature taken, they rely on misinterpretations of events that have banal, simple explanations.

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