A concerned reader asked us in July 2022 to verify if a video showing thick plumes of black smoke from what looked like a burning power station was authentic.
In the background a voice can be heard speaking in isiZulu, the most widely spoken language in South Africa. Loosely translated, he says the fire is serious and that there are no firefighters on site. He also wonders if “this is the sabotage Ramaphosa was talking about”.
In December 2019 president Cyril Ramaphosa blamed sabotage for debilitating power cuts.
In their July 2022 WhatsApp message to our tipline, the reader said the 45-second video was claimed “to be of Majuba power station this morning”.
Majuba is a coal-fired station operated by beleaguered South African power utility Eskom.
According to Eskom, Majuba (see image below) is its second-largest power plant, with an installed capacity of 4,110 megawatts (MW).
Eskom operates 30 power stations, with a nominal generating capacity of 45,117 MW over all. But as South Africans are all too aware, this is only on paper.
In reality the country is, in the winter of 2022, in the throes of rolling blackouts, euphemistically referred to as loadshedding, leaving many without electricity for as long as eight hours every day.
The crisis has been worsened by higher demand in winter and a weeks-long strike by workers, which was only resolved in early July. Eskom has said the “system will take some time to recover” following the industrial action, and loadshedding will continue.
It would therefore be of significant concern if one of Eskom’s main power stations were crippled. Does the video show Majuba on fire?
Fire at Majuba in December 2019, not July 2022
Using a thumbnail of the video, we performed a reverse image search. The results show a fire did break out at Majuba. But this was in December 2019.
In a statement Eskom said the inferno had “been extinguished swiftly” and that no injuries were sustained.
On 4 July 2022 the power utility doused claims of a fire at Majuba. “Eskom is aware of a video in circulation, showing a fire at a power station,” it said in a tweet.
“Please be advised that this is a four-year-old video. Eskom confirms that there is currently no fire eruption at any of our power stations, as alleged.”
The timelines – “four years” and two-and-a-half years – differ. But while the video doing the rounds in July 2022 certainly shows a fire at Majuba, it is not of a 2022 incident at a South African power station. And we hope it stays that way.
Republish our content for free
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.Publishers guide
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.