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Operation Dudula’s xenophobia is a blight on South Africa




XENOPHOBIA is not only a dehumanising social phenomenon but also creates a social schism that divides and antagonises people, even across international borders.

It engenders negative sentiments, feelings and emotions associated with trauma, stress, psychological wound, grudges and hurt for the victims and, as a result, perpetrators are perceived and viewed as cruel, hostile, inhuman and merciless. 

Victims of xenophobia not only keep these traumatic experiences within them but they also share these with people in their countries of origin, which creates feelings of anger and even reprisals on the part of compatriots living in countries of origin. 

Even though xenophobia has been evident in South Africa for more than three decades, the recent emergence, growth and institutionalisation of a violent and vitriolic highly organised anti-immigrant socio-political movement called Operation Dudula (“Dudula” in Zulu means “forcing out”) is a dangerous phenomenon in democratic South Africa.

What is more problematic is that the movement has recently registered as a political party whose primary and overarching political ideology will be anti-immigration.

If Operation Dudula is granted a space in South Africa’s Parliament, it will be doomsday for black African migrants because the party has reiterated its plan of mass deportation of “illegal” immigrants. 

A troubling hypothetical scenario will be that African countries might also act on a tit-for-tat basis by expelling South Africans from their countries, which will fracture and sever people-to-people or nation-to-nation interdependence, trade and solidarities.

Even though Operation Dudula might not win elections, its declaration of mass deportation of migrants (the majority of whom will be Black Africans), has already made African migrants in South Africa and their compatriots in countries of origin wary. 

Members and the leadership of Operation Dudula need to realise that their political views on immigration are extreme and border on anti-Africanist tendencies.

Members of this organisation terrorise black African migrant communities living in townships and inner-city residential neighbourhoods through rallies and protests, accusing them of committing crimes, taking away South African jobs and establishing “illegal” businesses, allegations that are exaggerated.  

Operation Dudula members blame black African migrants for the various social and economic problems in South Africa while the truth is that the disadvantageous socio-economic condition of most black South Africans is a result of centuries of racial marginalisation, current neo-liberal macroeconomic policies and the failure of post-apartheid administrations to address socio-economic inequalities. 

Black African migrants are the victims of socio-economic marginalisation as much as black South Africans are. Yet poor, disadvantaged, voiceless and marginalised black African migrants are blamed for problems they did not create, institutionalise and structure. 

The name “South Africa” is associated not with images and ideas of democracy, freedom and equality, but more graphic images on social media of xenophobic violence against black African migrants. 

South Africans who have visited African countries told me that on many occasions they were perceived as xenophobic by Africans and at times Africans confronted them regarding anti-African xenophobia in South Africa.

These experiences are just examples of the ways in which xenophobic violence in South Africa may have repercussions for South Africans visiting, living and working in various African countries. Many South African political leaders and public officials seem to turn a blind eye to Operation Dudula’s xenophobia and appear to be ignorant of the consequences of xenophobia on the African continent. 

No country can exist as an island and xenophobic actions in one nation can have harmful results for citizens of a xenophobic nation living beyond its borders.

In the past few years, we have seen angry condemnations, threats and even violence against South Africans and their companies in countries such as Nigeria and Zambia. Further blatant violence against black African refugees in South Africa will only strengthen solidarity among the people of Africa against South Africa and South Africans. 

South Africans and democratic post-South African entities must stop this poisonous, anti-African and racist social movement from occupying a space in South Africa’s democratic parliament. 

South Africans should condemn Operation Dudula’s violent and xenophobic actions. 

At a time when notions of African solidarity and cooperation are being espoused, fringe movements such as Operation Dudula should be stopped.

While African leaders have been calling for the obliteration of colonial borders and the introduction of visa-free free movement of people and goods across political borders, the existence and actions of Operation Dudula counters such commendable visions among many African leaders and pan-African activists. 

About the writer: Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde is a senior postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg.–Mail & Guardian.

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