Since 2015, a Zimbabwean man named Sangulani Maxwell Chikumbutso has been hailed by some on the internet as iconoclastic genius and self-taught inventor who successfully created an electric car that runs perpetually without ever needing a charge.
As outlandish and self-evidently incorrect as that assertion is, the journey to the source of that rumor is a fascinating mystery that began with an unsolicited invitation to a media event for a then-unknown company and provides insight into how the viral sausage is made.
The Saith Technologies "Open Day" Event
On 20 July 2015, Zimbabwean tech news site Techzim began reporting on a company named Saith Technologies. The outlet said at the time that they had never heard of the company, but that they had been invited to an "Open Day" in which the company would display their new, locally produced inventions to the media:
Has anyone ever heard of Saith Technologies? To be honest, I hadn’t until today. Tomorrow, [...] the company will hold an open day to showcase technologies that they have been working on at the Bluffhill Industrial Park in Harare.
What caught our attention [...] is how Saith Technologies has promised to display a series of world-class technologies that usually capture the public’s attention (not just in Zimbabwe but worldwide).
Included in their line-up is a locally produced drone (Yes, drone!), a locally produced electric car, road safety products, industrial technologies and what they term the “green power machine” which produces power using environmentally friendly technology.
The event was evidently well publicized, and even garnered a television spot on South Africa’s SABC news channel. All photographic evidence used to support the existence of Chikumbutso’s inventions stem from an evidently choreographed event held over the course of one day in 2015, and the website for Saith Technologies is populated with photos only from that one day. The most important (and dubious) claim relates to what he has dubbed the "Greener Power Machine," or GPM, described on Saith's site:
Maxwell Sangulani has always claimed the he would try to advance the ability to produce electricity by utilizing radio frequency, and this has been a proven fact. By revealing undisclosed substance (industry secreted) to radio wavelengths, the Eco-friendly power generator has the capacity to funnel the power generated into functional electrical energy.
Saith claims that the electric car requires no charging by utilizing a combination of regular batteries and a GPM to amplify them as its engine, breaking the laws of physics by producing more energy than is put into the device:
[Chikumbutso] imported the shell and went through the process, with artisans, of manufacturing the chassis and mounting the “engine”. The same power generation in the Greener generator is the one that is deployed in their Electric Vehicle.
The car does not require recharging from an electricity source. It requires just 5 regular gel batteries to start generating enough capacity to power the car and recharge the batteries (perpetual vehicle). Scientifically, perpetual motion says that once an object starts moving unless hindered by an external force, it will continue to move forever.
The scientific premise behind the purported GPM is similar to actual physics-abiding technology known as radio frequency harvesting. The concept with these devices is that they they convert ambient radio waves, the result of humanity's love affair with technology, that bounce around our planet into enough energy to power extremely low energy devices like smoke detectors or fitness monitors. A 30 September 2015 story from the Telegraph about a company named Freevolt describes the basic idea:
"It is the nature of broadcast transmissions that, when you broadcast, only some of the energy is received and used. The energy that is not received goes to waste. It's only nanowatts of energy, but the energy is everywhere," said [Paul Drayson, CEO of the company that owns the patent].
"What we're doing is using that fact to power very small low-energy devices. The radio frequency transmissions come from wireless networks, and as our hunger for information goes up, the amount of data that we want to transmit is going up exponentially, and therefore this is growing all the time."
The central difference between radio frequency harvesting (which can at present barely power a Fitbit) and Chikumbutso's GPM is that the latter allegedly takes these radio frequencies and somehow amplifies them without extra power merely by exposing them to a "trade secreted" substance. Evidently, the gathered reporters were not given enough — or any — information to test these outlandish claims. "We are not sure how this assertion can be dispelled and we hope at some forum scientist[s] will put the claims to test," TechZim said three days after the event.
This "open day" event apparently served primarily as a way to produce promotional material for Saith Technology, including a sleek video about Chikumbutso and his inspiring and unlikely story of unique genius. Chikumbutso has repeatedly stated that he has been unable to patent his device since perpetual motion machines (which would violate the first and second laws of thermodynamics) are unpatentable.
Techzim ceased reporting on Saith Technologies after filing their 24 July 2015 report, evidently unconvinced that the company had much to offer. Techzim editor Leonard Sengere told us that they never had access to Chikumbutso after that event:
[Our reporter] did attend the event and they were taken on a tour of the 'inventions.' The electric car and the generator were shown running and that was the extent of it. There was no chance for anyone to verify exactly what they were running on.
In any case, the scientific community largely just ignored him. Over here at Techzim, we are no scientists and even we just covered the event as a duty as we did not believe his claims. After the 'open day,' we never not get access to him and that was that. Life went on.
The 2017 Revival of Maxwell Chikumbutso
On 6 June 2017, the web site 263Chat (which apparently is a Zimbabwe-based media outlet), brought Maxwell Chikumbutso back into the news with the following headline: "Trump Scoops Top Zimbabwean Inventor Maxwell Chikumbutso."
That story, with its odd headline focused on United States President Donald Trump (despite no mention of the president in the story), claimed that Chikumbutso had been given an opportunity to continue his work in California, since nobody in Africa's entrepreneurial communities had taken any interest:
The United States government has given Zimbabwe’s prolific inventor Maxwell Chikumbutso a new home in its populous state of California. Chikumbutso is the founder of Saith Holdings Inc. under which he made headlines for his serial innovations which include the world’s first ever green power generator which can produce electricity using radio frequencies, an electric powered car which doesn’t consume fuel, a multi-fueled helicopter and many more.
In an interview with Chikumbutso from his new base in the United States of America, he expressed disappointment that Africa did not see what the US Government saw in his ground breaking inventions.
“The USA Government saw what Africa did not and California is now our HOME, the Head Office of Saith Holdings Inc. I always love AFRICA and I’m so proud of being born and raised in AFRICA. I will surely come back to Zimbabwe where everything started.” said Chikumbutso.
While we are unable to confirm any details of this story or discern what role (if any) the United States may have (or would have had) in encouraging Chikumbutso's alleged move, the story adds a number of claims to the mythology of this "serial inventor" — most notably the alleged source of funding for his work on electric cars and GPMs:
In 2003, Maxwell began to get ideas on creating a self-powered generator. Through [patent lawyer Bruce Mujeyi], Maxwell interfaced with some prominent professors in Zimbabwe who told him that it was impossible to create such a machine.
An opportunity arose in South Africa where Johannesburg City Power invited tenders for new and renewable energy solutions. Among the bidders, Maxwell was the only individual. In spite of that, he performed exceptionally but unfortunately, he lost the opportunity because the awarding director wanted a portion of shares in the company in exchange for his grant. [... It was that time] that he met with Angolan born pastor and businessman Dr Teddy De Almeida in Johannesburg.
Dr Almeida owns one of the biggest energy companies in Angola under the Bongani Group. He bought into Maxwell’s vision and contributed over $500,000 seed money desiring no return for his investment. No documents signed, just a stern warning to use the money wisely. Eventually when the Greener Machine was eventually completed[,] he invited Dr Almeida to take up equity in Saith Technologies.
Teddy de Almeida is, according to a number of sites, the Angolan-born chief executive officer of an international collection of companies named Bongani Group, as well as a pastor and entrepreneur in South Africa. On the web site for "Bongani Trading," a subsidiary of the Bongani Group for which he is described as CEO, his biography states:
Dr. Teddy De Almeida is the current president of the South Africa-Angola Chamber of Commerce. Prior to forming Bongani, Dr. Teddy was the CEO and managing director of GVA South Africa. He was also a CEO of Consolidated Trading Services and a Managing Director of Transanglo Import and Export. He holds an MBA degree from MANCOSA, Doctor of Ministry from Covington Theological Seminary (USA). He sits on various boards of companies, he has travels [sic] extensively around the globe for workshops and speaking engagements. He has met various heads of states and attends numerous summits. Dr. Teddy is also a Pastor at Alleluia Ministries.
We have reached out to de Almeida as well as executive chairman and alleged co-financier of Saith Technologies Luis Caupenela to ask if they did, indeed, provide any funding to Chikumbutso or Saith Technologies, but have not received a response from either individual. Cryptically, a 28 September 2016 Facebook post on an account owned by de Almeida makes only one passing reference to Saith Technology's alleged work in California:
Today is a blessed day, in early November we will launch our Eletric [sic] car in California, the only Eletric [sic] car that doesn't need to be recharged.
The Bongani Trading website that lists Caupenela and de Almeida as executives has not been updated since 2014, and includes several unfinished pages meant to be templates for news stories, suggesting that perhaps the site may not be as official as it appears, or, alternately, that their purported investment yielded no actual news.
It is also worth noting that 263chat's website has a disclaimer making it clear that truth is not necessarily the goal of their work: "we make no representations [...] of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose," the page reads.
Regardless, the story originally published on 263Chat has been cloned repeatedly by countless other extremely dubious web sites, including the Zambian Observer — a site that has trafficked in fake news in the past and which may have no actual connection to the country of Zambia.
All of these stories rely on the claims and photographs made during one July 2015 "open day" event. Despite being published two years later, these accounts offer no new evidence of Chikumbutso's claims and contain no new information that could be used to verify said claims.
The 2018 Revival of Maxwell Chikumbutso
On 25 April 2018, the conspiracy oriented, reality-adjacent website Collective Evolution picked up the story once again, this time citing the aforementioned Zambian Observer story and the 2015 video of that same event from South African television. As is often the case with Collective Evolution articles, the claims made there have been cloned and regurgitated ad infinitum by other dubious clickbait sites.
Despite now being years removed from the only demonstration of this alleged technology, their article (like all the rest) presents no new information that provides any reason to take Chikumbutso's claims — which, again, violate the fundamental laws of physics — seriously. Instead, Collective Evolution argued that Chikumbutso may be at risk now that the United States government is "involved," although how it is involved it does not say:
Right now, he is residing in California. Why did they do this? Was it because they came across a revolutionary with the power to change the world, or is it because they want to keep that which threatens their entire geo-political framework close to home so they can keep an eye on it, and control it? Who knows. But it’s always important to question the intentions of our government.
Was it always a scam, perhaps designed to elicit donations? It's possible, and the Saith Technologies website does have a donation section. Perhaps later web sites realized that this self-made genius story was clickbait gold and continued running with it for that reason.
It's also entirely possible that investors, and perhaps even Chikumbutso himself, fully believed in the technology they attempted to demonstrate in June 2015 — but the fact that no more demonstrations have occurred makes it clear something was, or is, off. It strains credulity to think that a car that runs indefinitely without recharging or fuel would not receive widespread financial support. We have attempted to contact Saith Technologies, but have not yet received a response.
In our view, however, the burden of proof for upending the first and second laws of thermodynamics lies squarely on the person making that claim. No proof has been offered in the three years since the claim was first made, and as such we confidently rate the claim that he invented a car that "never needs charging" as false.