/ 12 June 2022

OPINION| Operation Dudula is a symptom of unresolved colonial and political issues

Dudula (1)
Reckless: Operation Dudula members attack black Africans in Alexandra, Johannesburg. Getting rid of poor black foreigners will not stop crime and solve the unemployment problem. (Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Dudula means to drive back, repel, repulse, beat back or push away. Operation Dudula was set up in 2021 in Alexandra, Johannesburg, to ensure that jobs and business opportunities go to South Africans and seeks to drive out undocumented immigrants. The Dudula movement is a splinter group from a segment in the Put South Africa First movement, which promoted and executed anti-immigrant sentiment and campaigns on social media networks. 

The Dudula movement claims that it seeks to galvanise the South African government to take action on undocumented immigrants and those who are alleged to be involved in criminality. On paper this sounds like a purpose that justifies its formation, composition and actions. In practice, it purports. To purport is to appear to be or to claim that that something is true, without proof. That is the crux of the matter here. Let us examine why Dudula is dogged by falsehoods and inconsistencies.         

Criminal activities cannot be condoned but the group seems to make life a hell for the black immigrants in general while operating under the guise of flushing out undocumented immigrants and criminals. It purports to be averse to criminal activities but ironically it has been found on the wrong side of the law as if its members and supporters deem themselves to be above the law. For instance, an immigrant was killed in cold blood by this mob, not to mention the fear it has reignited.    

Although one would expect it to be insistent on meaningful economic parity for the previously disadvantaged black South Africans, its operations are concentrated against the poor black people who ordinarily live in shacks and townships. Those poor people hunger for socioeconomic transformation, not persecution. Dudula’s intentions are plainly and unashamedly Afrophobic and xenophobic. Call it anti-black. Its intentions scream they are suspect and visionless and barking up the wrong tree. If their vision is to create jobs, their operations are an exercise in futility.                  

Dudula members’ actions expose their charade. They represent a travesty of justice and humanity by scapegoating, persecuting and slaying other black victims of a wider colonial and political system. This farce risks isolating South Africa from the rest of Africa, because all lives matter whether South African, Nigerian, Ethiopian or Zimbabwean. Black or white. Rich or poor. Humanity is one. Dudula’s anti-black demonstrations and persecutions will not augur well for South Africa’s image, international relations and tourism sector. 

There is disillusionment that political independence does not necessarily translate into economic independence and prosperity for the citizen. Is the other black person the culprit? If all the undocumented and illegal immigrants go back to their countries, will the crime and unemployment levels in South Africa significantly go down? Judging by Dudula’s proclamations and attitude, their responses are affirmative. The bitter truth is on the ground. The causes they ascribe for their socioeconomic woes are unfortunate, superficial and one-dimensional. Are they not aware that they are turning other poor black people into sacrificial lambs in a crude and cruel game of political and colonial machinations, perceptions and indoctrinations?

Humanity, values and dignity 

There is a clear convergence between the Dudula movement and the organisers of previous xenophobic attacks. The common denominator is the heightening of an anti-black sentiment. Poverty is the main driver of anti-immigrant sentiment. It is useful to acknowledge that these resurgent black-on-black persecutions have social, economic, political, legal, cultural and psychological implications and complications. The heroism that is needed to tackle them should be holistic, honest and humanistic. Anything else is ideological bankruptcy. Humanism teaches us to value and respect others for who they are, irrespective of social, national or cultural differences. Poverty dehumanises, but respect for another soul humanises. 

The tragedies and ironies of the spirit of ubuntu are tragically playing out in today’s South Africa for the entire world to see. Values are important in any given society because they constitute the glue of love, humility and humanity. Once a people loses basic values such as beliefs in the respect for the sanctity of life, the fibre of that society becomes shameless and shambolic. Dudula is pushing away the values of ubuntu that Nelson Mandela espoused.          

It is time to accept constructive criticism. We would be discussing something positive if Dudula were found on the side of Afro-optimism or pan-Africanism but, alas, anything that is Afrophobic, gives one a sense of Afro-pessimism. What about robust ,realistic conversations? By virtue of the fact Dudula’s operations are no different from the corruption, pillaging, mismanagement and underuse of resources on the African continent. They are self-demeaning, self-defeating and destructive.  

Until Dudula takes its advocacy away from the poor and focuses its energies and time on the bigger schemes, cohorts, conspiracies and principalities, history will convict the coordinators and their aides of having been the 21st century’s foes and charlatans of Africa and the black race. Legacy is what is at stake. Are the next generations going to see heroism or villainy in these black-on-black persecutions? Endowed with rich resources, Africa shouldn’t remain “poor”.   

South Africa has a long road to socially equitable economic independence in spite of being one of Africa’s economic powerhouses. It is time to embrace soul-searching, not an ostrich mentality. Is there a political will to hold discussions with the key stakeholders?  Meaningful conversations should be based on facts, not sentiment. No to pretence, indoctrination and misconception. For instance, poor and marginalised people are neither a creation, a result, a manifestation of immigrant populations in South Africa, nor coincidental and artificial but structural and systemic. Wrong diagnosis begets wrong medication.  

African leaders have a long tradition of protecting the bad in the spirit of promoting and protecting a false sense of solidarity, territorial integrity and brotherhood. It looks like it is their mission to protect their cohorts, clubs and friends at the expense of their nations and jobless citizens. It is fresh on our minds that a former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, once trivialised the political and economic decay in Zimbabwe. He did that in the glare of the world’s media and in our time of need. The year was 2008, after the country’s disputed March 29 elections. This is the kind of pan-Africanism that is dishonest and self-defeating. African leaders should create conducive and enabling environments for all their citizens, and not unnecessarily burden the economy of South Africa. There is always the argument that skilled immigrants contribute to the growth of  South Africa.       

It is a fact that artificial borders are vestiges of colonialism. It is also a fact that a Khumalo in Zimbabwe and a Khumalo in South Africa share linguistic and cultural affinities. These are blood brothers. To murder one callously in either of the countries because one is undocumented is unacceptable and criminal. A white Zimbabwean in South Africa doesn’t suffer the same indignities. Food for thought. Justice? If the fight for economic opportunities dehumanises and destroys an innocent soul, what happened to one’s inner voice? Dead? South Africa has the word Africa in it. Vincent Gosh says: “Conscience is a man’s compass.”Brothers and sisters need to work together for a better, stronger and richer Africa. An African proverb says: “When brothers fight to death, a stranger inherits their property.” Call it brotherly counsel.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.