Home News Migrant groups concerned as Operation Dudula becomes a political party

Migrant groups concerned as Operation Dudula becomes a political party

by Luqmaan Rawat
Operation Dudula has decided to become a politial party Photo

South Africa – Fed up with government’s inability to take illegal migration seriously, Operation Dudula have decided to become a political party. The controversial organisation, which has been branded as anti-migrant, even xenophobic, has taken its first steps to dissolve its non-profit company status and register as a political party. The first step that has left many migrants fearing for their future in South Africa. 

Operation Dudula, whose name means “to force out” in Zulu, first emerged after the 2021 July riots in Soweto. They claim to have widespread support and are planning to stand candidates in 1 500 of the country’s 4 468 voting districts.


Understanding the complexities of the situation 

Several supporters of Operation Dudula have been accused of engaging in hate speech and physical violence. They’ve organised protests outside embassies, blocked access to state medical services for foreign nationals outside hospitals, and conducted intrusive door-to-door searches in underprivileged neighbourhoods, demanding to see identity documents. This was done while the party was still classified as a non-profit company. With Operation Dudula now on the verge of becoming a political party, there is a fear from those like Julekha Latib, Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia, that their power will only grow and things will get worse for migrants. Migrants from countries who once supported and sheltered ANC members during Apartheid will now be forced to live in fear.

“Right now the migrant issue is like a scapegoating issue. Everything gets blamed onto the migrants. You never hear the good side of migrants. You always hear the bad side of migrants … We talk about Pan-Africanism. During the time of Apartheid the government trampled on black South Africans and we also needed help from our neighbouring countries and they were there with us but today we forget where we come from. When we think about the issue about the colour of skin that goes deep. Now we are looking at black on black … How far are we going to go to kill people and hurt people?”

For Latib, Operation Dudula is becoming a political party but their mandate remains the same. This was confirmed by Operation Dudula party’s spokesperson, Isaac Lesole, who said the transition from civil movement to political party would mean a tempering of tactics but their ideology will not change.

“We want to demilitarise Operation Dudula. We know the military angle did not appeal to a lot of people,” he said. 

“Now we’ve taken a new posture, we need to guarantee that we can still achieve a lot without people being militants and killing or kicking things. As a political party, we are governed by a different set of rules … We view illegal immigrants as criminals, and they must go back to their countries.”

However, Operation Dudula is not just targeting illegal immigrants. In 2022, Zandile Dubula, Operation Dudula’s national secretary, said the movement will also target immigrants who live in SA legally but are doing menial jobs.  

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Government’s take on Operation Dudula 

The ANC’s stance on Operation Dudula has never been a sturdy one. In April last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the organisation as a “vigilante-like force”. He explained that such an organisation cannot be one the government supports.

“We cannot support a vigilante-type-of move against a group of people and particularly targeting them as foreign nationals because what we are doing then is just to divide our people on the African continent.”

However, former ANC spokesperson, Pule Mabe, told the Mail & Guardian newspaper last year that Operation Dudula was affirming the views of the ANC. “These [foreign] people come here to sell drugs, seat [live] here illegally, undermine our sovereignty, create illegal business.”

When it comes to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the party is firmly against the organisation. Speaking at the EFF’s diplomatic breakfast in Pretoria in July, EFF leader Julius Malema, stated that South Africans are not xenophobic, however, there’s a minority painting the country as such.

“That cannot be the definition of South Africa, it’s [Operation Dudula] a group of criminals who are in cahoots with some ministers by the way. Majority of them are drunkards who were in MK (uMkhonto Wesizwe).”


Impact of Operation Dudula

There are many South Africans who have married people from neighbouring countries. In this situation, what do you do, questioned Latib. Do you break up the family because one person is not South African? What happens to the child? Do you “cut the child in half and put half in South Africa and half in the other country?” and these are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed and looked at. The emotional toll this crisis takes cannot be ignored. It’s a call for unity, compassion, and above all, humanity.

While Operation Dudula is not anticipated to secure outright majorities, the fragmented landscape of South African politics allows small parties to wield significant influence in shaping coalition governments. One prime example of this is Kabelo Gwamanda, who is from the Al Jamam’ah party. He has managed to become the mayor of Johannesburg despite the party clinching victory in only one of the city’s 135 wards.

In the face of Operation Dudula’s transition into a political entity, South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with the unsettling prospect of a political party espousing anti-immigrant sentiments gaining influence. The move raises critical questions about the nation’s values, unity, and compassion. The alarming rhetoric and actions against migrants have instilled fear in those who once found shelter and support within South Africa’s borders. The rise of Operation Dudula as a political force should not deepen  existing divides but serve as a wake-up call.


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