Johannesburg - It was a story that tugged at the heartstrings. A story that was as awful as it was compelling. A story about a young woman named Kamo Peterson’s awful death and the heart-rending consequences for all who had known and loved her.
It was told in a series of 70 tweets, each retweeted several hundred times.
But it was a story that never actually happened. Instead it became a morality tale for journalists, existing only in the heated imagination of its writers on social media.
By Sunday afternoon it was trending on Twitter and then well into the evening, amassing 40 000 retweets.
The police were called, in Germiston and Pretoria, to corroborate the story, but no one ever picked up the phone.
On Monday The Star published the story as fact.
Almost as quickly, the very same social media that had been the source immediately poured scorn on the story’s veracity.
We started backtracking, asking the questions we should have asked before we rushed to publication.
We started with the police.
Germiston cluster spokesman Warrant Officer Andre de Jager said: “We cannot confirm the story because we do not have a case like that.
“There was an incident where a woman was assaulted but it didn’t involve a car or match the name of Kamogelo Peterson.”
The Star then began the search for @JustKhuti, the 18-year-old who told the story that had gripped the nation: the story of how Kamo Peterson was kidnapped, assaulted physically and sexually, and was then left for dead on a Germiston road before finally dying of her injuries in a Sunnyside, Pretoria, hospital.
First we found Khuthi Makananise’s parents, who live in Louis Trichardt, in Limpopo. Each of them gave different responses.
Her father Christopher referred all questions to her mother, but added earnestly: “She’s busy with applications for university.
“She wants to study human movement. She has always been a very good girl and I love her.”
Her mother Mokgadi said Makananise had indeed lost a friend recently.
“Yesterday (Sunday) she received a call in the morning and was shocked to hear that her friend had died.
“She was crying and saying that she doesn’t want to live in South Africa anymore.
“I even called a friend of mine who’s a psychologist to try to calm her. She was crying so much.”
Mokgadi couldn’t remember the friend’s name but said she remembered her daughter saying she was studying actuarial science and was found in Germiston.
Her mother helped us to contact Makananise, who has a book out on Kindle called Secretly in Love with my Principal. The book has nearly 10 000 reads.
Speaking softly, Makananise tried to explain what had happened.
“It was just a story I read on the internet and it made me feel like I didn’t want to live in South Africa anymore, so I made up my own story to show people how bad it is to live in South Africa.”
About the friend who died, she said: “The friend is not the same one from the story.
“My mom must have been confused. My real friend passed away on Sunday morning after they broke into her family’s home in Matoks (Limpopo)... The other account was mine.”
But when questioned about the back and forth conversations they had had every day between the two accounts she couldn’t explain.
She later called The Star back and apologised:”Anybody who knows me knows that I love books and I always tell stories.
“It’s just that this time so many people responded, I just left it. I apologise for misleading everyone.”
She then said the account which was under the name Kamo Peterson actually did belong to a real friend of hers, Kamo Seleka, her alleged friend who died during the break-in.
The Star can find no record of Kamo Seleka.
The Star phoned Makananise to get Seleka’s family’s details, but Makananise didn’t answer her phone.
“I’m going to remove her from all these accounts,” her mom said, “before she gets into real trouble.”