The Twitter murder that wasn’t what it seemed

In January 2016, a South African newspaper, The Star, reported the story of a brutal rape and murder of a young girl, by a group of men in Johannesburg. The horrific details described a tale that was disturbingly common in South Africa at the time. But this was slightly different. This never happened.

The Star Newspaper – Monday, 11th January 2016

The death of Kamo Peterson

The origin of the story was a series of tweets posted by Twitter user @JustKhuthi over the space of a few hours that received much attention and were retweeted and reposted hundreds of times.

Through seventy numbered posts, @JustKhuthi told of her close relationship with her childhood friend, Kamo Peterson, a young graduate who was on the verge of starting a professional tennis career.

The tweets went on to describe a night where Kamo was planning on going out for dinner with her father.

Her friend and her father assume she is with her boyfriend, so they attempt to contact him to find out if he has any more information on her whereabouts.

The concerned friend calls her mobile phone, which is answered by someone who found it in one part of Johannesburg, while her car has been tracked to another part of the city, approximately 45 minutes away.

They follow the co-ordinates of her tracked car. The frantic story takes a more emotional turn.

Although her car was found, there was still no sign of Kamo. That was until…

The worst fears of Kamo’s friends and family were realised. Kamo Paterson had been assaulted so badly that she was barely hanging on to life.

The distraught tweets continued and brought the pain that @JustKhuthi was feeling to life.

The tragic story resonated with many South Africans who retweeted the posts and sent messages of support. The #RIPKamo hashtag was posted hundreds of times, including by the government-run South African Department of Women.

The truth about Kamo

The one post that was mostly omitted was the last tweet before @JustKhuthi began her account of events.

Twitter user @JustKhuthi is Khuthi Makananise, a fiction writer who wanted to bring attention to how she sees life in South Africa at the moment.

“It was just a story I read on the internet and it made me feel like I didn’t want to live in South Africa anymore, so I made up my own story to show people how bad it is to live in South Africa.” – Khuthi Makananise

This went unnoticed by South African newspaper The Star, who reported the story of Kamo as if it were real. This became the subject of ridicule as their editorial process and journalistic integrity was brought into disrepute by publishing a fake story.

While some mocked the newspaper for being duped, others saw value in this work of fiction being so widely publicised.

The number of sexual assaults in South Africa for the years 2014-15 were reported by the police as being around 50,000, although campaigners believe the figure to be much higher.