Timeline of hatred and death – xenophobia and South Africa’s record of shame

Timeline of hatred and death – xenophobia and South Africa’s record of shame
Protesters carry anti-xenophobia posters during a mass march in Johannesburg. Life has only seemed to become harder for refugees and asylum seekers. (Photo: EPA / Kim Ludbrook)

From Buyelekhaya to Operation Dudula, attacks on foreigners have increased across the country. Here is a timeline of xenophobia in South Africa.

South Africa’s timeline of xenophobia between 1994 and the present day shows a damning lack of inaction to stop attacks, to hold perpetrators to account and to implement measures and strategies to address the causes that fuel hatred of the other.

Nhlanhla Lux exposed – The disturbing picture behind the masks of the man heading Operation Dudula

Below are just some of the recorded incidents and spread of xenophobic violence that have plagued South Africa. It has also resulted in a loss of life – the names of the victims (bar one) do not appear in this timeline.


A Southern African Migration Project citizen survey study released in 1994 shows that 21% of South Africans are in favour of a complete ban on foreign entry and 64% are in favour of strict limitations on the numbers permitted.


The “Buyelekhaya” (go back home) campaign gains traction in Alexandra. Malawians, Zimbabweans and Mozambicans are marched to the police station in a “clean-up” drive.


Seven foreigners are killed on the Cape Flats over five weeks. Police say these are xenophobic murders possibly motivated by the fear that outsiders would claim property belonging to locals.


At least four people, including two Zimbabweans, die in the Olievenhoutbosch settlement after foreigners are blamed for the death of a local man. Foreigners’ shacks are set alight.


Somali refugees appeal for protection after 21 Somali traders are killed in July and 26 in August. They say the murders are motivated by xenophobia and a campaign to drive Somali traders out of townships in the Western Cape. Police reject this.

January (and May) 2008

Two Somali shop owners are murdered in Jeffreys Bay and East London

March 2008

Seven people, including Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and a Somali national, are killed and their shops and shacks set alight in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria.

12 May 2008

Riots start in Alexandra. Two people are killed and 40 injured. Violence spreads to other settlements in Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town. Attacks are reported in Mpumalanga, North West and the Free State – 62 people are killed.

November 2009

Between 1,500 and 2,500 Zimbabwean farmworkers are evicted from their homes in the informal settlements of De Doorns, Western Cape. Their homes are destroyed and looted.

June 2014

Somalis suffer xenophobic attacks, including being stoned, and at least two people die. It leads to the Somali government evacuating its citizens from South Africa the following year.

April 2015

An upsurge in xenophobic attacks spreads across SA, starting in Durban after King Goodwill Zwelithini fans tensions by saying that foreigners should “go back to their countries”.

March 2019

Xenophobic riots targeting African immigrants break out in Durban. About 100 people attack businesses owned by foreign nationals; about 50 people seek shelter in a local police station and mosque. Three people are killed.  

September 2019

Riots and looting targeting shops owned by foreign nationals break out in Jeppestown and the Joburg inner city. About 50 businesses predominantly owned by Nigerians are looted. In a nationwide strike, truck drivers protest against the employment of non-South African truckers. Twelve people are killed.

June 2021

A social media campaign starts under the banner of Operation Dudula, followed by a march through Soweto targeting illegal foreigners and immigrant traders.

February, March 2022

Operation Dudula members march on Hillbrow and Orange Grove, targeting foreigners and businesses suspected of employing foreigners. It uses these marches to launch more branches. Social media is used to drum up support and mobilise protesters. The two marches result in clashes with the police.

April 2022

Operation Dudula raids businesses in Seshego, Limpopo (Julius Malema’s hometown). It claims to be supporting “families of seven women killed by [a] Zimbabwean serial killer”.

6 April 2022

Diepsloot, Johannesburg residents protest against a lack of policing and crime they say is perpetrated by undocumented foreigners. Protests are sparked by the death of five South Africans in the township.

8 April 2022

Zimbabwean Elvis Nyathi (43), a gardener and father of four, is killed in Diepsloot by a mob going door to door demanding to see visas. They drove him out of his hiding place, beat him and burnt his body.

10 April 2022

Operation Dudula buses its members to Durban to rally support in the province. But the turnout is poor, with police outnumbering marchers.

12 April 2022

Operation Dudula takes it marchers and raids to Germiston. Even as the country reels from Nyathi’s killing, Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla “Lux” Mohlauhi (also Dlamini) tweets: “Can’t cry for this 1 Zim guy bcos my tears ran out crying for the 7 South Africans killed by Zimbabweans. It’s disgusting how this 1 death is enjoying more media, political attention and sympathy over the 7 SA deaths.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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