Operation Dudula and its political enablers

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Operation Dudula and its political enablers: wrong target, wrong information and wrong politics


Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia is a broad coalition of organisations, committed to combatting xenophobia. We work to build solidarity in communities and between those in need, wherever they come from. We work in alliance with organisations mobilising both in the informal sector and with organisations representing the working class. KAAX denounces all forms of violence – with priority given to violence against womxn and xenophobic violence. We collaborate to engage in community assemblies and dialogues to begin conversations and build solidarity to end crime, unemployment and gender based violence. Inclusivity and solidarity in struggle: nationally, on the African continent and globally, is what we stand for.

Johannesburg, Gauteng

KAAX welcomes the unequivocal stand taken by President Ramaphosa stating that the ANC cannot work with Operation Dudula which he refers to as a “vigilante-like force”. This marks a critical departure from the kind of utterances made by other senior members of the ANC and government. We call on the President to make good on this statement by going further than just words.

It is clear to KAAX that the acts of vigilantism that have been carried out are being aided and abetted by forces with a vested interest in weakening our democracy. We denounce such acts which are dividing communities and turning the most vulnerable against each other. The forces behind them have the wrong target, the wrong information and the wrong politics.

A few weeks ago, as he and his small group of Operation Dudula (OD) members were busy physically threatening and destroying the goods of Alexandra-based informal traders they suspected were “illegal immigrants”, Nhlanhla Dlamini boldly declared that, “we are here to remove everything that is wrong”. He went on to say, “We are here to clean our streets … (and) no one is going to stop us”

Stop for a second and take-in the real and potential meaning and impact of those words. They should make us all shudder, precisely because they mimic similar kinds of chilling rhetoric that have ended and can only continue to end in tragedy. Remember similar words that emanated from the mouths of Rwandan “community leaders” and politicians in the months leading up that country’s horrendous genocide? Or how about the more contemporary examples that continue to be spewed out by right- wing, ultra-nationalist, authoritarian-loving and racist thugs and politicians across Europe and the United States?

These kinds of words and thinking are now streaming thick and fast from the pens and mouths of self- proclaimed ‘community leaders and groups’ as well as their political enablers in South Africa. Besides their implicit incitement to violence and the clearly directed fuelling of xenophobic division and hatred, above all, they are designed to serve the personal, class and political interests of those leading the charge. They have nothing to do with protecting South Africa’s sovereignty, nothing to do with combating crime and nothing to do with upholding and equally applying the law.

Just listen to the Patriotic Alliance’s Gayton Mackenzie. Not only has he proudly claimed that his party supporters have “captured 67 illegal immigrants”, he has also called for “all foreigners to leave the country”. All this, Mackenzie claims, is to “protect the jobs” of South Africans. In a similar vein, we now hear ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe endorsing the actions of OD and taking up the cry that “we cannot allow … some who come from those countries (to) … come and abuse the laws of the republic, (to) sell drugs, seat [sic] here illegally, undermine our sovereignty, create illegal businesses …” And just like xenophobe-in-arms Action SA leader Herman Mashaba, who is “proud of Operation Dudula”, Mabe’s ANC not only welcomes the presence and activities of OD but charges that those who label OD as “xenophobic” are “supporting illegal workers”.

What does all this tell us? It tells us that OD and its political enablers have chosen:

The wrong target. If they are so aggrieved by the massive joblessness that has been ongoing in the South African economy for over two decades and so attuned to the needs of poor, unemployed South African citizens (most all of whom are black) then they would know that it is not “illegal immigrants” who are taking jobs and should shoulder the blame. Rather it an economic, market dominated system and associated policies that unfairly privileged an inherited concentration of capital and wealth (most of which is in the hands of a small white elite) and a profit at all costs approach which consigns the majority of the black working class – including immigrants – to the ranks of a reserve army of labour (modern day slavery of predominantly black workers) fighting over the scraps from the ‘masters’ table. Immigrants, whatever their status and more specifically those from our own continent, don’t own the means of production nor the wealth that is so unequally divided. They are not the ones undermining South Africa’s “sovereignty”. Targeting “illegal immigrants” in this regard is nothing more than crass opportunism to distract from the historic and ongoing failure to transform South Africa. We call upon all those who have legitimate social, economic and political grievances to target their understandable anger and frustration towards those with/in political and economic power.

The wrong information: Misinformation is the main currency of those who want to shift blame, who want to confuse and divide people who have the same material/class interests. While OD and their enablers tell us that South Africa is being “overrun” by “foreigners”, the facts are that non-nationals have over the last decade consistently made up less than 4-7% of the population. They also tell us that immigrants are exploiting social assistance grants, but the truth (as the Jesuit Refugee Services points out) is that recognised refugees and permanent residents are the only categories of non- nationals who can access SASSA grants; and in 2018 this group made up 0.4% of grant recipients. As if this misinformation was not enough, OD and their supporters falsely claim that “foreigners” (most of whom they clearly consider to be “illegal immigrants”) are responsible for much of the crime in South Africa, when there is absolutely no empirical evidence to show immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than South African citizens.

The wrong politics: Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 20 something years will well know that it has been the ever-expanding levels of corruption, de-professionalisation and bad governance within the state – and specifically as applied to the Department of Home Affairs – that has institutionalised a largely dysfunctional and misdirected immigration and border control system. The fact is that the majority of immigrants are made “illegal” because the system does not work unless one pays a bribe to get the necessary documents. It is the ultimate irony that OD and their enablers – who profess to be on the side of the poor black majority – target poor black immigrants who are most often forced to pay bribes to become legal while they have nothing to say about wealthier (mostly non-black and non-African) immigrants who can easily buy their legality. Rather than practice a politics of inclusive class, community and Pan-African solidarity as well as equality before the law for everyone (whatever the illegal nature of one’s actions), OD and their political enablers have chosen a politics of ‘cannibalism’ which feeds off the scapegoating of immigrants as well as relies on fear, shakedowns and the constant threat of violence within the very communities they purport to speak for. There is absolutely nothing progressive, radical or constructive about this politics.

What should be clear for all to see is that Operation Dudula as well as those politicians, business people and erstwhile champions of “radical economic transformation” who support and sustain such campaigns, do not have any meaningful answers to the deep-seated, systemic problems that beset our country and more particularly, the majority of poor and workers who bear the brunt. Instead, they are running full steam ahead in the wrong direction and carrying the wrong message. Like their counterparts in many other countries across our troubled world, their journey can only ever offer more hatred, division, intolerance and misery through acts of violence against the most vulnerable in our country.

The shocking act of ridiculing, intimidating or attacking a human being because they are perceived to be a ‘foreign national’ (whatever their legal status) based most often on appearance and language, should make us all outraged. The relevant laws and policies as well as sections of our Constitution exist to protect us from such practices (practices that have their origins in the apartheid era); this is what many people died fighting for in our struggle for liberation.

Sharon Ekambaran: 083 634 8924
Trevor Ngwane: 079 030 7657
And – 063 594 1566

This press statement was released by Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (KAAX) on 5 April 2022.


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