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Posts share unrelated photos to claim tourist was severely beaten in S. Sudan


Months after South Sudan signed a deal with the Africa Tourism Board to boost its tourism industry hurt by years of civil war, a Facebook user published several photos claiming they showed a local attacking a tourist who ended up in hospital. According to the post, the images proved why “tourists don’t visit South Sudan”. But AFP Fact Check found this to be misleading: the pictures feature a Sudanese tour guide lightly wrestling with a white man to demonstrate the popular local sport. They also include a stock image used on medical websites selling ventilators.

On April 3, 2024, a post on a South Sudanese Facebook page shared a series of five images showing a black man fighting with a white man. In one image, the white man is picked up off the ground; in another, he is on the ground.

The last photo, which shows a white man in a hospital bed, suggests that the fight ended with a hospitalisation.

“Reason why tourists don’t visit South Sudan anymore (sic),” reads the caption of the post.

<span>A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on April 16, 2024</span>

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on April 16, 2024

A page called “Juba Mouth” shared the post with its 15,000 followers.

The claim was repeated on another Facebook page that lists a South African phone number under its contact information.

South Sudan signed (archived here) a deal with the African Tourism Board in January to boost the industry, according to local news reports.

The tourism sector of the world’s youngest nation has been wrecked by years of civil war and political instability.

While the US has issued a “do not travel” advisory for South Sudan due to crime, kidnapping, and armed conflict, the claim in the post is misleading (archived here).

Local wrestling

AFP Fact Check conducted reverse image searches on the first four images  – which show the fighting scenes – and located a YouTube video (archived here) of the same fight, published more than three years ago.

It shows the two men lightly wrestling and smiling. The caption on the clip said that “no one was harmed”.

“This is a video of a white man trying to take down a mundari man in a wrestling match in Terekeka, South Sudan,” it reads.

The Mundari are a small ethnic group in South Sudan.

A keyword search for “mundari man wrestling white man” on Facebook revealed another clip (archived here) of the same fight and identifying the local man as “Frederick Pitia”.

“A Mundari man by the name of Frederick Pitia locks horns with a white man in a peaceful wrestling match held in Terekeka,” reads the caption of the post published on August 26, 2020.

In the 23-second-long recording, a person can be heard in the background referring to the white man as Mario.

“Mario, your leg, your leg,” the voice instructs the man who repositions himself.

A further search on Facebook led to an account named “Fedrick Pitia”, which had visuals of the local man with tourists and conducting wrestling activities.

An AFP correspondent in Juba spoke to Pitya (spelt differently than on Facebook) who confirmed he did wrestle the white tourist seen in the misleading post some eight years ago. Importantly, the man “was not hospitalised”.

“It was me who wrestled Mario Gerth around 2016 to 2017. I work as a tour guide,” he told AFP.

Pitya said Mario had been intrigued by the Mundari wrestling culture and wanted to experience “how authentic wrestling or the game can be”.

“He was okay; we were doing it for fans. Mario is a tourist who was attracted to the Mundari culture, and he wanted to face me, to challenge me,” he added.

Promotional image

A reverse image search on the last image of a white man in a hospital bed revealed it was a stock image found on medical sites (see here and here) advertising ventilators.

<span>A screenshot of website promoting medical ventilator, taken on April 17, 2024</span>

A screenshot of website promoting medical ventilator, taken on April 17, 2024

The false claim emerged as South Sudan announced this month that it would start voter registration in June for long-delayed elections due to take place at the end of the year (archived here).

South Sudan has not held a poll since it gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 and is plagued by chronic violence, poverty and natural disasters.

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