5G Webinar touches on geopolitics and disinformation

26 March 2021

“Fake news” is not just a problem of misleading or false claims on fringe websites, it is increasingly

filtering into the mainstream and has the potential to be deeply destructive. This was elucidated

earlier this year, when Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni

Abrahams, issued a press statement condemning the ongoing destruction of cellphone towers in

South Africa. As has been the case in other parts of the world, some South Africans were burning

cellphone towers (including non-5G towers) based on the incorrect conspiracy theories that link 5G

towers to the spread of COVID-19.

While these techno-sceptics, have always operated on the fringes of the socio-political spectrum,

there are several circumstances specific to COVID-19 and 5G technology that has amplified their

voices, and brought a geo-strategic element to their campaigning. These include:

The United States’ continued onslaught on Huawei who is the leader in 5G technology. This

onslaught seeked to delegitimise Huawei as a major player within the Tech Space. This was

done by emphasising that Huawei was an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, and therefore

its agenda is nefarious.

The fact that the COVID-19 originated in China, permitting the creation of a narrative that

China has unleashed the virus upon the rest of the world as a conscious act,

The coincidental emergence of 5G and COVID-19, at a time when some Western

Governments were actively mobilizing against the penetration of Huawei as a dominant

player in the 5G market globally.

Despite the fact that COVID-19 is spreading in countries where no 5G telecommunications

infrastructure exists, these technosceptics continue to make the false claim that telecommunications

technology is linked to the ongoing global pandemic.

Therefore, Moja Research Institute undertook to host a 5G Webinar with ICT specialists, to unpack the

myths, dispel the disinformation and show how 5G technology can benefit South Africa in creating a

more just and equal society.

The webinar, conducted via Zoom and broadcasted onto Social Media, was attended by people from

various sectors of society including government officials, members of parliament, ICT specialists,

journalists, and key individuals from companies developing 5G technology, like Huawei.

The panel of ICT specialists and webinar participants touched on key areas relating to 5G technology

which included:•

The regulatory environment which will make 5G technology accessible, while ensuring that

the sector is transformed,

The development of smart cities and how we can use 5G technology.

The disinformation perpetuated about 5G technology and its incongruent link to COVID-19.

The bilateral and multilateral relationships particularly with China, and the sharing of 5G

technology.

The geo-strategic campaign utilising social media to discredit all technology developed by

Huawei specifically and China generally.

Given the centrality of Information technology and the 4th Industrial revolution in South Africa’s

development trajectory, the combined techno-skepticism and geo-political effort to prevent the roll

out of 5G as critical infrastructure, represents a threat to the South African development path.

This was further highlighted when President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his two most recent State of the

Nation Addresses, emphasized the centrality of technology in the plan to roll out a massive

infrastructure-centric job creation and development programme. The construction of smart cities such

as “Lanseria Smart City, the first new city to be built in a democratic South Africa, is now a reality in

the making. The draft masterplan for this smart city – which will become home to between 350,000

to 500,000 people within the next decade – was completed in November 2020 and is now out for

public comment.” (President Ramaphosa, SONA 2021). Hence, the need for 5G technology becomes a

critical imperative.

It is important to emphasise that the Centre for Analytic and Behavioural Change at the University of

Cape Town, stated that this disinformation, which has close links to the US right-wing, poses a serious

threat to the health of the South African people and to our democracy as a whole.

As an active citizenry, we must therefore question the origin of this disinformation campaign and ask

why our disinformation mirrors almost accurately the disinformation perpetuated by the right-wing

elite in the US.

The fact that this narrative mimics US right-wing and official government positions, amplifies its voice,

perceived legitimacy, and effect. Experts have noted that this is a deliberate strategic effort.

As such, this webinar forms part of a larger initiative undertaken by Moja Research Institute to host

monthly webinars that unpack untruths and brings together industry experts to engage on topics often

termed “controversial”.

The immediate imperative is therefore to respond to the techno-skepticism and the broader

geopolitical assault in respect of 5G and China’s role in developing and making the technology

available.

Based on the discussions, a core outcome of the webinar centred around the conflating of “the race

for dominance” in the ICT sector, specifically between the USA and China, and the actual viability of

this technology.This conflation, it was concluded, has resulted in the technosceptics, which always operated on the

fringes of mainstream discourse, have their voices amplified and aligned with the geo-political agenda

of pushing an anti-China agenda, and by implication an anti-Huawei agenda.

These voices will, in our estimation, become more intense over the next few months as the Chinese

Communist Party celebrates its 100-year anniversary, and by implication its success in lifting people

out of extreme poverty. The World Bank has stated that China has lifted 850 million of its citizens out

of extreme poverty.

It can therefore be concluded that the centrality of Information technology and the 4th Industrial

revolution in South Africa’s development trajectory is so important, that it is critical to dispel these

notions and engage in an active knowledge-sharing campaign to counter the disinformation.

The Panellists included:

Dr Leon Rolls

Ms Nomso Kana

Dr Sibongiseni Thotsejane

Ms Suraya Hamdulay

Mr Jak Koseff

Mr David Africa (Moderator)

The webinar was LIVESTREAMED on the BRICS Channel Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/BricsChannel

[END]

ISSUED BY MOJA RESEARCH INSTITUTE (MRI)

For Media Enquiries Contact:

Fazlin Fransman

Senior Researcher

Moja Research Institute

076 865 1196/ 072 927 4263