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NGO files case against Operation Dudula on behalf of 30 people — for group’s ‘unlawful and violent conduct’

NGO files case against Operation Dudula on behalf of 30 people — for group’s ‘unlawful and violent conduct’
Operation Dudula members march in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on 10 March 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Nonprofit human rights organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, has moved to file a case against Operation Dudula on behalf of more than 30 people ‘who have experienced or witnessed unlawful and often violent conduct by Operation Dudula and its members’.

Almost 24 months ago, amid the Covid-19 hardships and lockdowns, a group emerged that blamed migrants for the fallout and economic hardship. They introduced themselves as Operation Dudula, meaning to “force out” or “knock down” in isiZulu.

The group made their first public appearance on 16 June 2021 in Diepkloof, Soweto, targeting people they believed were foreign drug traffickers and businesses they thought employed immigrants. The campaign has since grown, launching various branches nationwide. It has created a popular hashtag, calling for removing illegal foreign nationals in South Africa, alongside #PutSouthAfricaFirst.

The movement has expanded beyond an online conversation and now operates as a vigilante group that targets foreign nationals and their businesses.

Here are some of the highlights of the Operation Dudula campaign:

  • In February 2022, supporters visited several suburbs in Johannesburg, including Hillbrow and Orange Grove, demanding that illegal foreign nationals leave South Africa. They clashed with police in Orange Grove and police fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
  • In April 2022, Zimbabwean Elvis Nyathi (43), a gardener and father of four, was 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. His death inflamed social tensions around the work of Operation Dudula, now the self-appointed watchdog on the issue of illegal immigrants.
  • From August 2022 to September 2022, Operation Dudula members protested and barred gates at Kalafong Provincial Tertiary Hospital in Pretoria, turning away patients they believed were undocumented foreign nationals, based on the colour of their skin and the language they spoke, GroundUp reported.
  • In February 2023,Operation Dudula threatened to remove migrant children from schools.
  • In May 2023, Operation Dudula announced that it had decided to become a political party because it was tired of the government’s inability to take illegal migration seriously.

Following the “violent” and “forceful” mass eviction of residents in a City of Johannesburg building, allegedly by Operation Dudula members last month (according to Siyabonga Mahlangu, general secretary of Inner City Federation), the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) has filed a case against Operation Dudula on behalf of more than 30 people “who have experienced or witnessed unlawful and often violent conduct by Operation Dudula and its members”.

NGO support for litigation

The litigation is supported by Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (KAAX), Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Inner City Federation, the South African Informal Traders Forum and other allies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Joburg condemns inflammatory statements by councillor Nkululeko Mbundu against socioeconomic rights group

According to Nomzamo Zondo, a director at Seri, the litigation seeks relief against Operation Dudula and certain of its office-bearers for ongoing xenophobic, racist speech and conduct, and against the relevant organs of state for failing to discharge their duties concerning Operation Dudula’s unlawful conduct.

“For the very first time, we have had to launch a case where the names of witnesses and representatives of organisations are hidden. And that’s been necessary because of the way that Operation Dudula operates … It’s been necessary because of the experience of these very witnesses and even more necessary of who Dudula says they are … Their essence, they describe it as violent.”

‘Scapegoating won’t solve our problems’

Sharon Ekambaram of KAAX has called on members of society, the media and government officials to reject the politics of scapegoating, hatred and xenophobia and to focus on addressing the real challenges in South Africa – inequality, poverty and corruption.

“Our eyes on xenophobia say no to false directives that sell division and prolong our poverty. We do not have a cost of living crisis. We have an austerity crisis. And who bears the brunt of those austerity measures? Cuts in the health budget? It’s poor black people that suffer. Cuts in education? It’s poor black people that suffer. We do not have a poor service delivery crisis. We have inequality. We do not have a migration crisis; we have a corruption crisis. A crisis of mismanagement. No more false solutions, narratives and lies. Scapegoating migrants will not help us find a solution to these problems.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Xenophobia in SA stems ‘from government’s inability to deal with poverty, unemployment and inequality

In the spirit of Africa Day on 25 May, Treatment Action Campaign national chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala asks: “ Why does our government commemorate Africa Day when it is silent about the targeting of Africans in South Africa?… Africa is for Africans and we reject all politics that threaten the safety of any person.” DM

Update: GroundUp reports that Zandile Dabula, Operation Dudula national spokesperson, responded as follows, “Under normal circumstances, Operation Dudula would not be responding to attention-seeking fraudsters masquerading as NGOs. The case by Seri and Kopanang is a desperate attempt to silence Operation Dudula and government to arrest these criminals using [trading] stalls to peddle drugs and counterfeit goods. Operation Dudula is at its final stages of collecting evidence to prove perjury and fraud committed by these two organisations. These two organisations will soon be exposed, their time is up.”


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