The big story: Xenophobic opportunism

Xenophobic tension is on the rise again in Gauteng’s townships and there’s a new organisation driving it this time: Operation Dudula. 

A few weeks ago, Kaya 959 reported that a group of Soweto and Alexandra residents marched to Hillbrow to remove undocumented foreign nationals by force. 

Things have intensified. On Monday, three Zimbabweans and a South African were injured during a clash between foreign nationals and people describing themselves as “Dudula Movement” members in Alexandra. The organisation is separate from Operation Dudula.

The organisers of Operation Dudula deny that their actions are xenophobic and say they are saving the townships’ economies.  

But the fact is that South Africans are becoming increasingly hostile to foreigners. The #PutSouthAfricaFirst hashtag on social media continues to trend at times, offering a slightly diluted version of the more aggressive anti-foreigner sentiment we’ve seen in action this week (and, sadly, so many times before). 

All this is taking place against the backdrop of national politics that’s becoming increasingly xenophobic. 

Herman Mashaba led the charge while at the DA and now is even more blatant as part of his popular Action SA formation. Others like the EFF, who were once anti-xenophobia, have jumped on board an anti-immigrant wagon plucked straight out of Donald Trump’s book of xenophobic tricks. 

Globally, the rise of this sort of right-wing sentiment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 

It’s worth noting that Operation Dudula is partly led by Nhlanhla Lux, the man we once hailed as a hero for guarding Soweto’s Maponya Mall against looters during the July unrest.

But we may have erred. The country heaped praise on Lux when he worked outside the system for a just cause. The problem is that for him – and many other angry and poor South Africans – fighting foreigners also appears to be a just cause. 

It’s not. As many experts note, this is misdirected anger as unemployment and food prices soar. It’s easier to turn on one’s neighbour, who is holding it together a little better and looks different, than to rail against structural problems and the political elites who are to blame. How ironic that it’s these same elites encouraging xenophobia – and distracting from their own failings. It’s disgraceful. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 10 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.