Pretoria – The South African Police Service in Gauteng on Wednesday warned against the peddling of fake stories about human trafficking or the kidnapping of women and children.
The caution came amid a rise in such reports on social media, with “human trafficking” among the top trends in South Africa.
SAPS Gauteng spokeswoman Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said in a statement the “incessant promotion and distribution of such malicious untruths” had continued even after the national police commissioner issued a similar warning against the rumours.
“A video clip has surfaced on various social media platforms where an unknown man frantically claims to have witnessed the kidnapping of a woman at gunpoint at the Boulders shopping centre in Midrand,” Peters said.
“The SAPS wishes to confirm that in fact on Tuesday morning at around 11.15am at the Boulders shopping centre, police from Midrand SAPS responded to an incident where a woman was allegedly robbed of an undisclosed amount of cash at gunpoint.”
She said preliminary investigations suggested that two unknown suspects travelling in an SUV may have followed the woman from a bank where she had reportedly withdrawn a large amount of money.
“The suspects are said to have accosted the victim in the basement parking at the shopping centre and demanded money from her at gunpoint. The suspects made off with the victim's handbag and other valuables. Both the woman and a six-year old child, who was with her, were uninjured and are safe,” said Peters.
In another trending fake story, a voice note recorded in Afrikaans has a woman calling herself "Jeanie from NCIS" claiming that a child was kidnapped at a Pick n Pay store in Brits and that similar incidents had happened in Nelspruit, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.
“The woman goes on to substantiate her lies by further claiming that police have confirmed to her that these incidents of kidnappings are on the increase. Police can confirm that this too, is nothing but just a perpetuation of this trending act of malice that only seeks to sow panic and pandemonium amongst communities,” said Peters.
In some instances, the rumours are not limited to social media platforms, with members of the public going to mainstream media with allegations of human trafficking and kidnapping and claiming to know the victims or to have witnessed the incidents personally.
“However when police reach out to determine specific cases, incidents or police stations for purposes of investigation, no such detail can be provided by the same people,” said Peters.
SAPS provincial commissioner in Gauteng, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela on Wednesday said nothing good would come out of the perpetuation of “fake news”.
"The anonymity that often surrounds the identity of the creators or sources of fake news, confirms that the intention can only be hostile, seeking to unsettle community-police relations that the SAPS is working so hard to build and restore," said Mawela.
He said police in Gauteng would continue to give priority attention to genuine cases of human trafficking, kidnappings and crimes committed against women, children and other vulnerable people.
Police have urged parents to remain vigilant and prioritise the safety of their children and to always be aware of their whereabouts, making sure not to leave them unattended as this could create an opportunity for their abduction.
African News Agency/ANA