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The thugs of Dudula — two years down the line, and I hate being a South African


Boipelo Manyowa is a South African journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Manchester, England.

A cousin of xenophobia has returned; bigger, better organised, and stronger. I hear they call it Dudula. It claims to be anti-crime, but most of what we see is violence, theft, and intimidation of extremely vulnerable members of society.

Just over two years ago, as goons ravaged suburbs and beat other humans to a pulp, I sat down to express myself in a way that I had never done before.

I didn’t want to, but I had to, and I promised myself it would be the only time.

I wrote, carefully, for Daily Maverick, that in that moment I was ashamed of being a South African.

The reasons were stark and obvious. In a decade, at least thrice and at a global scale, my fellow countrymen without provocation had embarked on systematic attacks against other black Africans. It didn’t make sense, and it made me hang my head in shame.

Barely 24 months later, a cousin of xenophobia returned; bigger, better organised, and stronger. I hear they call it Dudula. It claims to be anti-crime, but most of what we see is violence, theft, and intimidation of extremely vulnerable members of society.

Everything and anything is possible in South Africa, but even I did not see this coming. And I will get back to this later.

I want to cut straight to the point. I have a disclaimer. I am married to a foreigner. My husband and colleague Maynard is a Zimbabwean man who I have known since I was a teen and who I love. We have been married for many years and have travelled every single continent together.

I have lived for his dreams, and he admits this, but I don’t concede he is better than me — I gave up my aspirations so we could have a family. This is not a joke. We have children and our families are joined and known to one another. I spurned the chance to use a double-barrel (Marope-Manyowa) because I wanted to carry his name, to its full extent.

This is rudimentary and I only say this as a disclaimer and to give context. What is perhaps significant is that in all our years of marriage, my husband has never applied for a spousal visa and we have lived and enjoyed our lives in many places.

We currently live in the United Kingdom since 2019, but our sights lie back in Zimbabwe where we want to set up a pioneer college of journalism and media — this is why my husband is a PhD candidate in journalism at a leading university here in England.

Yet this isn’t why I write this. I pen this, again as an ashamed South African, but also as a confused one.

South Africa has several problems, especially with its porous borders. Anyone and their cat can pass through our ports of entry for the right amount (and this isn’t much usually). This has contributed significantly to our drug epidemic, and to some degree to violent crime.

But from what I can see, the people who have been targeted by Dudula are poor vendors and gardeners; the very foreigners who are shunning crime and trying to earn an honest living. I am yet to see or hear of Operation Dudula targeting organised criminals in the high-rise buildings in Sandton, or the criminals that rent out entire streets in Edenvale, Yeoville or Rosettenville.

All I have seen so far are vulnerable mothers who survive on less than R10 a day being chased about by a cowardly mob. It doesn’t sit with me at all.

I despise contradiction. We cannot in one breath claim to be champions of the rule of law yet behave like vigilantes and attack people. Anyone who enters our country, whichever method they use and however illegal it may be, is subject to the same laws as us — that is what equality before the law means!

Anyone who enters the country illegally should be subjected to the processes dictated by the law. Any person found within our country has equal rights as me and you. There can be no room for vigilantes, no matter how tempting that may be.

I also cannot stand the cowardice that claims a black woman selling tomatoes in Sunnyside, Pretoria is dangerous, but a drug dealer of European descent in Sandton is tolerable. This black-on-black violence is unhelpful and as long as it exists, South Africa can never be independent.

But lastly, and more importantly, I was driven to write this article to remind the Operation Dudula thugs of a few things.

Nationality is not a skill, and many South Africans, like me, are out there trying to conquer the world.

Many people come to our country, but most of the time it is for our own benefit. Immigrants build states. Just look at the US, the UK and Canada. Diversity breeds success.

There are no foreigners in Africa. We are all Africans because Africa lives within us. Our black brothers and sisters are one with us.

And this is the most important. We are not that special. We are, as any other Africans, just visitors on this Earth. We will all die.

It pains me to write about these things or imagine that I must. Immigrants bring knowledge, diversity, and strength.

I don’t say these things because I married one. No. As I stated above, my family and I live happily in the United Kingdom after several years of living in Hong Kong.

I have written before that Zimbabweans have been extremely unkind to me, to the point where any friend of mine would be surprised I would speak in their favour.

So this is not about me. It is, however, about people from many different walks of life who can change our country for the better, but who are being targeted by criminals who claim to be fighting crime.

You couldn’t make this up. And once again, I am ashamed to be a South African, but at least for now, I am thrilled that through my marriage I have become and carry a Zimbabwean passport — a true achievement for someone so passionate about Pan Africanism! DM


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All Comments 7

    • Seriously, thats your take from this?
      That kind of sentiment and interpretation is one of the many mindsets and “selective misinterpretations” that are perpetuating the divisions we have in society. This is not about “whites” at all, its about xenophobic attacks (and as stated man times – black on black violence) Just because it doesn’t say “black on white violence is also wrong” does in no way promote, support or excuse it. It’s just not part of this very specific article on a different subject matter.

      “systematic attacks against other black Africans”
      “cowardice that claims a black woman selling tomatoes in Sunnyside, Pretoria is dangerous”
      “This black-on-black violence is unhelpful and as long as it exists”

      As for the safety of a European country…what makes that relevant? And the follow on is…
      “our sights lie back in Zimbabwe where we want to set up a pioneer college of journalism and media”

      Did you miss these parts?

  • There was a time not so long ago when many white folks were ashamed to call themselves South Africans. Funny, in a very sad way, how that wheel has turned.

  • Since you launched your new comments system I have not seen any comments!
    Am I not understanding the system or are people no longer commenting?

  • I will share this on my facebook Boipelo.
    I too am ashamed at what SA has become. Lets hope, and try and help good prevail over evil. Thank you for your words and your feelings expressed so well. It is vital for all of us who feel this way to share our misgivings, insights and hopes. It helps build a ground swell o0f just outrage and hopefully will lead to a change of heart and government.

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