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The #IStandWithPutin & #IStandWithRussia campaign in South Africa

Updated: May 17, 2023

In partnership with local South African researchers, a new report from the Centre for Information Resilience investigated the #IStandWithPutin / #IStandWithRussia campaign, launched shortly after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, in which South African influencers played a prominent role.

The report reveals how a key account in the South African segment of the campaign belongs to former-President Jacob Zuma’s, daughter, Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma, who travelled to Russia around the time of the campaign. Sambudla-Zuma posted about her visit on social media.

Sambudla-Zuma's account posted a prodigious amount of meme-worthy content for the campaign, drawing links between her father’s regime, Russia’s support in the Apartheid era and “Western imperialism”.

Commenting on the new report, CIR co-founder Ross Burley said:

"It is impossible to definitively establish Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma’s direct connections to Putin, the Kremlin or government figures within Russia. Nor is it possible to unambiguously prove that she is knowingly working on behalf of any disinformation campaigns.

However, this report has demonstrated that regardless of intent, Sambudla-Zuma's account has been the main amplifier of the #IStandwithPutin trend on South African communities on Twitter. Her apparent actions amplifying Kremlin narratives online come around the time of a trip to Moscow.

At a time when open source organisations, including CIR, and media organisations around the world have documented a vast number of human rights incidents and war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, Sambudla-Zuma’s actions raise, at the very least, serious questions to answer."

The report finds that much of Sambudla-Zuma's content was re-used in other, regional legs of the campaign. She was an early adopter of the campaign hashtag before its official launch by Russian-government accounts, and visited Russia towards the tail-end of the campaign; adding to significant circumstantial evidence suggests that she played an active role in its dissemination strategy.

Sambudla-Zuma and other influencers associated with the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the ruling ANC party continue in their vocal support of Russia to this day. However, the volume of their pro-Russian content has not again reached the level that it did during this particular campaign in February and March 2022.

Suspicious accounts promoted the ‘official’ campaign content of cartoons and memes pushing Russia’s ‘whataboutism’ narrative at the time. These accounts amplified the memes and narratives as well as official Russian government accounts, whose relatively innocuous diplomatic content stands out artificially in the data as a result.

Read the full report here.

CIR #IStandWithPutin & #IStandWithRussia campaign in South Africa FINAL
Download PDF • 953KB

NOTE: Bloomberg, who reported on our research here, asked Sambudla-Zuma for comment in response. She has so far declined to comment to the FT, but has given an interview to RT.

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