XENOPHOBIA AND RACISM are Inherent menaces to Pan-Africanism, Human Rights and a Colorblind Africa: A concise look at Operation Dudula and like anti-immigrant shenanigans in South Africa.

By Sonny Mncedisi Dube

As South Africa celebrated its Human Rights day two days ago, on the 21st of March, it is apposite to discuss the anti-immigrant sentiment that perennially prevails in the country and its nexus to the complex racial relations.  South African history is born out of acute racism and inequalities hence every aspect of life including property ownership and employment is defined along racial borderlines. In addition to racism, xenophobia which is a general dislike of foreign nationals, is a vice that continually and particularly threatens Pan-Africanism, human rights and a colorblind Africa. Considering the impact of Apartheid on South African history, the current complex racial relations and marginalization of the black majority when it comes property ownership, wealth and employment among other aspects simply reflects continuities of the past and a deep-rooted legacy of imperialism. In the same vein, post-independence South Africa has seen a series of violent attacks on foreign nationals being accused of stealing jobs and opportunities. Recently xenophobia has graduated into sophisticated forms which has been noted in the country’s immigration laws, political propaganda and the recent movements such as Operation Dudula whose primary purpose is to identify and dispel what it calls illegal immigrants in South Africa.

Human Rights is a sensitive topic for African countries and particularly for South Africa whose history is marred by racial clashes and inequalities of the Apartheid era. South Africa remembers among many traumas the tragic events such as the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960, an incident where the police shot and killed unarmed anti-apartheid activists gathered in Sharpeville, Johannesburg.  The Apartheid system was marked by racial segregation with the white minority’s monopolization of wealth and the black majority suffering in dire poverty.  With the 1994 political compromise that was brought about by the CODESA, little did the superstructure change, post-Apartheid South is simply a continuity of white monopoly of wealth, and the black majority is still excluded from owning the means of production and essentially land ownership. To this day the majority black South Africans are landless and this speaks to the fact that South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. The white minority in South Africa are still the biggest owners of land, farms, banks, mines and mining conglomerates, with the aid of black elites that collude with the system to the detriment of their fellow countrymen.

The racial question has barely subsided in post-Apartheid South Africa, this has been reflected in the clashes along racial lines in the employment sector and recently in the education sector wherein black students and teachers have levelled allegations of racial discrimination against white teachers and white employers respectively. The past months have seen what were initially sporadic turn into widespread protests against racism in South African schools.  Racism not only constitutes a hurdle towards establishing a colorblind Africa but is also a sensitive human rights concern hence the next step briefly shows the nexus between white monopoly and xenophobia.

White monopoly breeds Xenophobic and Anti-Immigrant Sentiments.

Having provided the above exposition, it must be pointed out that the post-Apartheid illusory democracy that was born in 1994 has bred a system of hate and violence that is a result of frustrations from among countless disappointments joblessness and exclusion from access to wealth by the white monopoly. These frustrations stand ready for any opportunistic moments such as protests (as was witnessed in the June 2021 FreeZuma protests) and also have been the root causes/ inspiration behind anti-foreigner sentiments in South Africa. The black South Africans having suffered this exclusion from property ownership and access to wealth that only belong to the white minority and a few black elites turn to blame the presence of foreign nationals for their economic and social woes. This is why Xenophobic sentiments have always based on the myth that foreign nationals are stealing jobs and economic opportunities. Having been frustrated by the greedy capitalistic system that exploits and excludes them from the milk and honey of post-Apartheid South Africa, they vent their anger towards foreign nationals accusing them of stealing jobs hence being the source of their miseries. The Human Rights Watch commented that foreigners are often made scapegoats in a country with one of the world’s most unequal societies.

The failure of the post-Apartheid government to deliver has seen even party leaders being shamelessely vociferous on deportation of foreign nationals, a move which seem to have influenced the country’s fragile immigration laws (read Policy and Politics by the same author). Failure to acknowledge the simple fact that the government has failed its citizens and the root cause of the sufferings of black South Africans is the monopolization of wealth by the white minority has seen such failure being scapegoated on the presence of foreign nationals in the country. This shows that xenophobia has taken sophisticated forms, unlike the series of violent attacks that usually identify as xenophobic, the concept now takes shrewd and subtle gestures. This has created fertile ground for vigilante and xenophobic movements impetuously and maliciously mushrooming as has been seen by the emergence of Operation Dudula.

Operation Dudula and its Notoriety

Speaking of sophisticated xenophobic tendencies, the notorious Operation Dudula, a movement which is primarily purposed at dispelling illegal immigrants is xenophobic in nature. Dudula in Zulu language means to “push back” “drive back/away” a word which when used in these circumstances echoes divisive, hateful and xenophobic sentiments. Operation Dudula led by Nhlanla Lux Mohlauli constitutes of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to chase away foreigners from South Africa. They have been gathering, paying visits to businesses which they believe are owned by foreign nationals telling them that they are unwelcome in South Africa. They gave stern warnings to businesses that they should prioritize South Africans, also forcing closure of foreign-owned stalls/kiosks and accusing foreign nationals of being the chief perpetrators of criminal activity in South Africa. Jay Naidoo, a founding member of COSATU workers’ union correctly stated that “Even if they were to expel all the immigrants, our level of crime would not drop, neither our level of joblessness”. Professor Joy Owen, Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Free State, writing in an article reiterated the same fact that the statistics do not support the suggestion that crime is being driven by illegal foreigners or undocumented migrants, he points out that the leading majority of the male prison population is South African. He calls such claims “unsubstantiated” which pit illegal foreigners against South Africans.

This in every respect fits the definition of xenophobia. A problematic perception across the public domain has been confining xenophobia merely to a series of violent attacks, it must be noted that even the inflammatory utterances such as those Operation Dudula has been vociferously directing towards foreign nationals whether or not they are in the country legally constitutes an outright form of xenophobia that is no different from physical attacks. Since the emergence of Operation Dudula and an unabated wave of anti-immigrant sentiments last year, foreign nationals including Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians have been living in fear of violent attacks. Recently, following this vigilantism there were reports of violent attacks on foreign nationals in Alexander, Johannesburg.

The Economic Freedom Fighters have been quite unequivocal in condemning xenophobic tendencies since last year and recently, particularly denouncing Operation Dudula for its continued intimidation of foreign nationals. The EFF leader Julius Malema at Sharpeville last week Monday made an interesting point that Operation Dudula should address the problem from its roots by taking the land from the whites not scapegoating South Africa’s socioeconomic ills on immigrants. Unlike the EFF, most South African political parties have lacked this unequivocal condemnation of such divisive sentiments, with the Patriotic Alliance and Action SA continually playing opportunistic politics taking an anti-immigrant stance recently. Only recently did president Cyril Ramaphosa condemn vigilantism and castigate anti-immigrant sentiments in South Africa, but it has been the silence or ambivalent stances on the immigrant problem from these leading political parties that has seen vigilantism rise into prominence.

Xenophobia is a serious violation of human rights and existence of raucous movements such as Operation Dudula who hold “clean up” campaigns targeting foreign nationals is a serious threat to fundamental human rights of dignity and in essence an insult to the Pan-African spirit of peace, tolerance and oneness.  At a period when the continent is fighting multiple battles including the Covid-19 pandemic, political instability, economic recession, poverty, hunger, a message of solidarity should prevail not divisive politics and hateful propagandas. Considering our shared historical narratives, cultures and realities that binds us as the African continent, it is not only miasmic but an insult to be perpetrating black on black hate and violence at this epoch of our history. South Africa should reform its immigration system, and law enforcement authorities who are lawfully vested with such authority should be left to tackle the immigration problem as they are better placed to do so not vigilantes who sow hateful and divisive sentiments inconsistent to Pan-Africanism.



SONNY MNCEDISI DUBE is a blogger who writes in his personal capacity



©The NovemberMan



  1. Informative piece. If only we as Africans could unite as one people and work together for the betterment of our nation, maybe we can rise up to be the best in the world. Thank you for the enlightening piece 👏


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