A COMPREHENSIVE investigation by BBC Africa Eye, titled Fear and Loathing in South Africa, has unearthed the disturbing growth of xenophobia within the country. The report reveals the emergence of anti-migrant groups, such as Operation Dudula, and delves into the underlying socioeconomic factors and beliefs that drive anti-migrant rhetoric among South African citizens.
Lead presenter Ayanda Charlie gained exclusive access to Operation Dudula, a group accused of vigilantism, promoting xenophobia, and hate speech. The investigation exposes how these anti-migrant groups regularly conduct patrol operations and raids, forcibly expelling migrants from their homes and businesses, often through illegal means. Shockingly, some of these attacks are documented in videos posted on a pro-Dudula website, further exacerbating the problem.
Operation Dudula, whose name translates to ‘to force out’ in Zulu, reflects its mission to expel migrants forcibly. Victims of the group’s violent raids shared their harrowing experiences with BBC Africa Eye. One Nigerian business owner described how he was tased and saw his clothing products destroyed, rendering him homeless. He expressed his frustration, stating, ‘I’ve never seen a country treat people like this. If I’m doing something illegal, fine. Deport me. But I’m not doing anything illegal. Now you’ve made my life miserable; I can’t pay my rent. I want to leave; it’s too much.’
BBC Africa Eye captured footage during a ‘patrol operation’ in Johannesburg, where Dudula members chanted slogans against migrants while attempting to locate a shopkeeper linked to a recent crime. When asked about their motives, Operation Dudula member Pumla Mpurwana claimed, ‘We are trying to ensure that these foreign nationals respect us and that we are protected in our society.’
The group also operates a WhatsApp contact line for South African citizens to report migrants living in RDP housing, designated for South Africans. Upon receiving a tip, they send an undercover team to investigate. In one operation, Zandile Dabula, the president of Operation Dudula, instructed an undercover member to remove their Dudula shirt to conceal their identity. She explained, ‘When they see the Dudula t-shirt, they know there’s trouble. So, we don’t want them to be suspicious that there’s an investigation happening. We just want them to provide as much information as they can.’
Critics argue that Operation Dudula targets some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Anne Michaels, a campaigner for migrant rights, stated, ‘They [migrants] are always on edge for whatever might happen. They would rather go after the most vulnerable and attack them. The migrants are vulnerable. They would rather go to them and rattle them, instead of rattling the cages of the guys living in the glass houses.’
BBC Africa Eye’s investigation also uncovered another anti-migrant group operating in Alexandra township, whose tactics and rhetoric mirror those of Operation Dudula. Victims of this group recounted being forcibly told to leave their homes, even though they were South African citizens. The use of weapons and threats further highlights the dangers faced by victims of such attacks.
The documentary highlights how Operation Dudula’s activities and raids are fuelled by xenophobic rhetoric, blaming migrants for economic challenges and crime. Zandile Dabula suggested that migrants were working on a ‘20-year plan to take over South Africa,’ but she later admitted that it was a rumour. She added, ‘It’s a rumour, but the way we see things happening, we believe that this rumour is actually true.’
The documentary delves into the reasons behind locals joining the movement. Dimakatso, a mother and Operation Dudula member, blamed migrants for her son’s drug addiction, further exacerbating her anti-foreigner sentiments. She expressed her frustration, saying, ‘I hate foreigners, and the government is doing nothing. I wish they would just pack up and leave our country. It’s foreigners who are selling drugs on the streets.’
The investigation also recorded the moment when Operation Dudula announced during a conference in Johannesburg that it had become a political party, intending to contest elections next year. Lead presenter Ayanda Charlie shared her observations, saying, ‘I went on this journey to learn more about the kind of people who would join a group like Operation Dudula. Once I met them, I realised that a lot of them are just like the people from back home, people from my neighbourhood, and they struggle with the same things I grew up struggling with. But what’s been disappointing is that these people have taken that pain and created more pain.’
The rise of anti-migrant groups and xenophobia in South Africa underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the deep-rooted issues contributing to this troubling phenomenon.