Citizen Reporter
3 minute read
16 Jul 2021
1:55 pm

Cybercrimes Act in the spotlight after WhatsApp used to plan SA riots

Citizen Reporter

Should the instigators of the public violence be tracked down and found guilty, they could find themselves behind bars.

Icons of social media apps. Picture: iStock

With reports suggesting that the instigators of looting and violence that has erupted in South Africa used social media to organise the attacks, the Cybercrimes Act could see them get jail time or a fine.

This is after acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni revealed on Thursday that one of the 12 people who are believed to be the instigators of the violence is in police custody.

Ntshavheni said the police were now on high alert for the remaining 11 suspects.

WhatsApp used to plan attacks

According to Daily Maverick, the 12 instigators used WhatsApp and Telegram in order to carry out their strategic planned attacks.

The publication cited senior ANC and security intelligence officials as their sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Screenshots of the messages – shared on Facebook – appear to show that the organised attacks targeted trucks, highways and businesses.

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TimesLive reported that the “Shutdown eThekwini” WhatsApp group was created only a day after Zuma was admitted to the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal to start serving his 15-month jail sentence for contempt.

The group allegedly included ANC members and government officials.

The social media groups and messages are now being investigating by the authorities.

Alleged instigators

It is alleged that former president Jacob Zuma’s ex-bodyguard, Thulani Dlomo, was one of the prime suspects of the “well-orchestrated economic sabotage”, according to News24.

Zuma’s incarceration has been fingered as the ostensible trigger of the widespread riots, notably in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The death toll from violent protests around the two provinces has since risen to 117, while a total of 2072 people had been arrested as of Thursday.

READ MORE: We are going after the instigators of violence,’ says a bullish Ramaphosa

Dlomo – who is the former head of a State Security Agency (SSA) special operations unit – is one of the instigators that are being investigated by the agency for carrying out the “modus operandi”.

Meanwhile, Zuma’s daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambundla is another person that is alleged to be an instigator in the violence.

ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte indicated on Monday that the party would hold Zuma-Sambudla accountable for her social media comments thanking the violent protesters for supporting her father.

Cybercrimes Act

The new Cybercrimes Act – which was signed into law on 2 June 2021 – addresses the sharing and disclosure of messages or content which may be deemed harmful.

The bill was first proposed back in 2015 by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, to address South Africa’s lack of legislation in this area. It was introduced to the National Assembly in 2017.

That said, even though the Act has now been signed into law, it is not yet fully in effect. President Cyril Ramaphosa must still confirm the commencement date in the Government Gazette.

Harmful data messages

Under the new Act, three types of messages – which include data messages on social media platforms – could be deemed as “harmful” and may land the senders in hot water.

Harmful data messages include:

  • Data messages inciting violence or damage to property.
  • Messages threatening people with violence or damage to their property.
  • Data messages containing intimate images sent without consent.

A data message is defined as any electronic representations of information in any form. The types of harmful content include, for example, the distribution of revenge porn and threats sent on social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Instagram.

Fines and imprisonment

An offender, if convicted, could be liable to pay a fine or face imprisonment ranging from five to 10 years, or up to 15 years for aggravated offences, depending on the terms of the offence.

ALSO READ: Being an internet troll can land you in jail – what you need to know

This means that should the instigators of the public violence be tracked down and found guilty, they could find themselves behind bars.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Kahla and Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni