Street vendors paced nervously, huddled in pairs, wondering if it was safe to unpack the carvings, baskets and wire sculptures they sell daily to tourists on the one of the small craft markets that dot the coast.
A police notice the day before had warned of possible protests by a group known for attacking immigrants, but nothing had happened yet.
“They want to take our businesses away from us,” said a vendor from a neighboring country, who went to live and work in South Africa a few years ago, before adding that he feared for his life and that of his family.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has been a long-standing problem in South Africa, where the end of white minority rule has failed to bring meaningful change to many black South Africans. Attacks on migrants have risen sharply since May 2008, when an estimated 62 people were killed and dozens injured in Johannesburg in one of the country’s worst xenophobic attacks.
The police advisory in Cape Town in late May flagged a possible ‘Operation Dudula action’. The group recently opened a branch in Cape Town, the country’s main tourist destination, after months of targeting poor neighborhoods around Johannesburg and Pretoria. He has been accused of intimidating and terrorizing migrants from countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, who typically live in black townships in South Africa.
At the beginning of April, a gang from Diepsloot township in Johannesburg stoned and burned alive Elvis Nyathi, a Zimbabwean father of four, when he had not produced documents proving that he was legally in the country.. Seven men have been charged in connection with his murder.
The Operation Dudula campaign is seen as a coordinated effort, rather than a general response to chronic poverty and inequality that persists nearly three decades after the end of apartheid.
In a sudden bout of racial killings, a South African suburb sees a dark history repeating itself.
Sharon Ekambaram, who heads the refugee and migrant rights program at Lawyers for Human Rights, said the latest wave of xenophobia appeared to be supported by well-funded organizations.
“What’s different is that the face of vigilantism is a new phenomenon in the way violence is organized,” she said, “it seems to be orchestrated and organized.”
“Dudula” means “to push back” in the Zulu language. Those involved in Operation Dudula accuse migrant workers of being responsible for rampant crime and contributing to the country’s high unemployment rate by taking jobs away from South Africans. Government statistics for the first quarter of this year show the official unemployment rate at nearly 35%, with unemployment for workers aged 25-34 at a staggering 42%.
About 3.9 million foreign-born people were living in South Africa as of mid-2021, according to StatsSA.
The Washington Post’s efforts to contact several Operation Dudula leaders were unsuccessful. But in a May 16 interview on Cape Radio, one of those leaders was clear about his motivation.
“Since 2004 we have seen illegal immigrants come to South Africa and take jobs,” said Sebele Tsoloane, who heads the Operation Dudula chapter in the Western Cape province. “We are not a political party. It is a citizen movement. We [are] not vigilantes. We just want to force the law to work.
Ekambaram of Lawyers for Human Rights disagrees with this characterization.
“Operation Dudula is not underfunded, so our experience is that it is not an organic uprising or a movement of people born out of anger at their living conditions,” he said. she stated. “It appears to be a hidden hand that has a vested interest in collective violence. … We lived through the violence of 2008, 2014, 2016, and it was all due to scapegoating by state officials.
Crackdowns and unlawful searches of immigrant homes by law enforcement increased, she noted, in scenes reminiscent of the apartheid years when police went door to door to check the documents of black South Africans.
“What we have experienced at LHR is increased repression with increased deportations and arrests of migrants, as well as illegal search and seizure type operations by law enforcement groups, knocking on doors to asking people for papers, which is completely illegal,” she said.
In Cape Town, shopkeepers eagerly watching for any signs of Operation Dudula protesters have blamed a hidden hand. “It’s just politics,” said one salesman, who asked that his name and nationality be withheld for fear of intimidation.
‘I am broken’: South African communities are ravaged by a wave of looting, arson and loss
South African political leaders are used to stoking xenophobia.
Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg who is now the leader of the Action SA political party, has repeatedly accused foreigners of taking jobs away from South Africans.
“I don’t want to live in a country where foreigners come to open hair salons and spas [convenience] stores. No. These opportunities are for South Africans,” he said last September in an interview with the Daily Maverick. “For foreign nationals to come and work in restaurants and drive taxis and trucks, no way. …I’m not going to apologize to anyone.
In 2015, a Zulu king called foreign workers “head lice” and told them to leave the country. “Let’s drop our lice,” said Goodwill Zwelithini, who died last year. “You have to remove the ticks and place them outside in the sun. We ask foreign nationals to pack their bags and be fired.
He then claimed that his comments were taken out of context.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned “vigilante type” groups operating against foreigners.
“We cannot support a vigilante type movement against a group of people and targeting them particularly as foreign nationals because what we are doing then is just dividing our people on the African continent,” Ramaphosa told reporters. journalists in April. “People who are here illegally should be dealt with within the law.”
The United Nations expressed “growing concern” over South Africa’s treatment of foreigners and highlighted the country’s ratification of international codes on human rights and refugee protection.
“Over the past few years, we have noted with deep concern that movements such as Operation Dudula illegally force people suspected of being undocumented foreign nationals to show their papers,” he said in a statement. communicated.
Human rights organization Amnesty International in April accused the government of not doing enough to protect migrants. He said migrants interviewed in the townships described living in constant fear and feeling unsafe due to harassment by police and anti-migrant gangs.
– Washington Post