Russian propaganda SA elections
The Russian disinformation campaign and South African elections. Image by

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Propagated Russian narratives spread regarding SA elections

On social media, Russian influence in South Africa did not begin with the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

28-03-24 10:18
Russian propaganda SA elections
The Russian disinformation campaign and South African elections. Image by

On social media, Russian influence in South Africa did not begin with the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Both leading up to the full-scale invasion and for some time before, key accounts have been active in promoting Russian narratives, building their audiences over time both by parroting Russian disinformation and tying themselves to domestic political issues. 

On X, this can be seen through the lens of one of the more influential accounts; ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ (Username: @_AfricanSoil). This account is not new to controversy. In 2021 the person alleged to be behind the account, Zamaswazi Majozi, appeared in the Germiston Magistrate’s Court, charged with using her social media accounts to incite violence that led to the 2021 July unrest in KwaZulu Natal and parts of Gauteng.


Despite the case being thrown out of court in March 2022, ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ has since built a following of close to 160,000 followers on, seemingly through pro-Russian posts laced with disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine, and more recently supporting the new Jacob Zuma led party, Umkhonto Wesizwe (known as MK, and not to be confused with the former paramilitary wing of the ANC, from which the name of the new political formation has been appropriated. This study used the keywords Russia, Ukraine, Gaza, and South Africa which generated over 2270 posts from ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ from 31 October 2021 to 28 November 2023.

The launch of the MK party by Zuma, a direct split from Cyril Ramaphosa ANC, has generated a high level of social media engagement over the past year. Zuma has been vocal in his claims that NATO started the war in Ukraine, supposedly to ‘crush’ BRICS. He has attracted support from pro-Kremlin accounts such as Sphithiphithi Evaluator.

A study of influencer ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’s’ activities on between October 2021 and November 2023 reveals that accounts of such stature were already flooding social media platforms      with posts on Vladimir Putin and Russian military aggression on Ukraine months before the invasion. The earliest of these posts from late 2021 highlights how powerful Russia is against the Western world and mentions Putin as “Friends of President Zuma”. Some of the posts reiterate warnings by the Russian President on Ukraine:

Vladimir Putin warned them in December “They must not mess with us, they’ll regret it.

On 24 February 2022, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, Sphithipithi Evaluator posted four times within two hours using accompanying video footage of the invasion, as well as Putin’s last speech before the invasion. The post that received the most impressions was in March 2022. This was regarding how Russia had abandoned Mastercard and Visa for a card system run by the Chinese through Union Pay. That post alone generated 6, 889, 755 impressions and was one of 20 posts on the day that demonstrated Russia’s foresight. In numerous posts, Sphithiphithi Evaluator likened Russia’s foresight of abandoning Mastercard and Visa to that of former South African President Jacob Zuma in joining BRICS.

Throughout the posts in the two years observed, there is consistency in admiring Putin and comparing his leadership skills to that of former President Zuma. Throughout 2022, the study observed that the ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ handle continued to propagate the impression that Russia was doing well economically despite the war in Ukraine and that they were close to a victory. Other posts mentioned African countries such as Russia’s cooperation with Sudan exposing the Russian disinformation goal which only portrays Russia as an enabler and militarily invincible state. In October 2023, the war in Palestine immediately diverted attention from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Yet for ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ the Palestine war was an opportunity to shape its narrative on Russia. Posts about Russia sending aid to Gaza, supplying arms to Syria, and helping build the Suez Canal in Egypt, ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ was able to shape the Palestine war narrative central to Russia’s role and like the war in Ukraine, it was a war against American dominance. 


The above interaction map shows ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ as the main source of posts and interactions, with the different numbers identifying the accounts interacting with the main source over the specified period.  The interaction map also illustrates the reach of the post from the source through the numerous smaller edges and the difference in the purple (source) colour reveals new interactions.

What is also interesting is that from October 2021 there has been a sudden and continued increase in the number of followers to over 155,000 as of November 2023. Due to the large numbers engaging with the posts shared by Sphithiphithi Evaluator, the impressions on each post on the Ukraine/Russian War average over a million impressions enabling Russian disinformation on a larger scale. 

Furthermore, these posts exclude reposts and responses to other posts which could be intended to misinform the public. The post below dismisses the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as an example. 

The Russian disinformation campaign and South African elections Image: Supplied

A word cloud visualisation of the posts by ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ revealed the common themes and use of words such as Russia, Vladimir, Putin, and Ukraine. The bolder fonts and larger words reveal the most common themes and words used in the posts.

Word Cloud
The Russian disinformation campaign and South African elections Image: Supplied


As South Africa heads for elections in 2024, the growing influence of Russian disinformation through accounts such as ‘Sphithipithi Evaluator’ and the inferences to the Zuma administration can be used to generate and sway political interests.  The recent creation of the MK party led by former President Zuma and daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, together with influential social media accounts like ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ will canvass political support in the forthcoming election. While past research showed that Zuma-Sambudla were central to Russian disinformation intended to sway public opinion through hashtags such as #IStandWithRussia and #IStandWithPutin, accounts such as ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ have continued to propagate this narrative.

While the previous case against Sphithiphithi Evaluator on inciting the KZN unrest in July 2021 was thrown out of court it shows the challenge in combating misinformation when the alleged perpetrators threaten legal action after being exposed for using faceless accounts to post misinformation. Thus, the investigators tend to face the heavy burden of proof in the social media landscape where faceless accounts post misinformation, and no one is held to account. Although this study could not establish if Majozi is still the face behind the ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’ account, it did establish that the social media accounts behind Russian disinformation in South Africa are now the forebears of the new MK party. This could be the Russian hand in South Africa’s next election.

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