The author was inspired to pen his thoughts down following the recent resurgent spates of xenophobic attacks, threats, deaths and persecutions. This time around these terrible turbulence, protests and afrophobic attacks are initiated, directed and executed under the banner of the Dudula Vigilante groups or the so-called Dudula movement.
Roots and Rules
Dudula means to drive back, repel, repulse, beat back or push away. The Alexandra Dudula Operation was set up in 2021 in Alexandra, one of the lowliest and most lawless areas of South Africa. It seeks to ensure that jobs and business opportunities go to the South Africans, hence like the Dudula which was born in Johannesburg, it strives and hopes to drive out all undocumented immigrants from their communities and the country.
Dudula is a splinter group from a segment in the Put South Africans First movement which executed and promoted ant-immigrant sentiment and campaigns on social media networks. The Dudula movement claims that it seeks to conscientise and galvanise the South African government to take action on undocumented immigrants and those who are alleged to be involved in criminality. While criminal activities cannot be condoned or ignored, the group seems to be bent on making life a hell for the black immigrants in general and for the undocumented ones in particular in mostly in low-income communities. They are on a rampage in townships where they pump up anti-immigrant sentiment to the highest level. Ironically, while they condemn the illegal activities of the immigrants, the Dudula members have been found on the wrong side of the law by taking law into their hands as if they deem themselves above the law.
Traction, Expediency and Populism
Why do groups like the Dudula movement seem to be gaining momentum in spite of their anti-development, anti-black, anti-panAfricanism and anti-unity and peace denotations and demonstrations? For instance, the Dudula groups seem to be spreading across the breadth and width of South Africa. Do they represent the sentiments and concerns of all black South Africans? Are they fighting a genuine cause? Are their aims ,objectives and agendas sustainable and sound? Are they targeting the real problem-causers or they are scapegoating other black victims? What is subtle and obvious about such groups? Are other voices of reason conspicuous by their silence or absence? What about other hidden and hideous forces at play? The author believes that the Dudula movement is taking things in such a sad and simplistic or one-dimensional fashion. This attitude risks isolating South Africa from the rest of Africa. No nation is an island, no matter how powerful or prosperous, it deems to be. What goes around comes around. All lives matter. South African, Nigerian, Ethiopian or Zimbabwean. Black or white. Rich or poor. Humanity is one. Arrogance boasts and blinds. Life humbles.
Cruel and Crude Machinations
One of the possible reasons why the Dudula groups seem to be gaining momentum is the harsh realities that South African blacks face on a daily basis. They have been marginalised for too long. Think of the visibility and accessibility to the increasingly frustrated black South African of another poor black person from another African country who is trying to eke out a living, by doing a menial job or operating a little spaza shop. Historically, we all know of the plight and blight of black people the worldwide, the South African black comes from a previously disadvantaged group. He/she probably feels that the other African brother or sister is taking up his/her job or space. There is an appearance and a feeling of immediacy to the crisis. Is it that immediate? Is it that visible or immediate? Is it new? Is the other ordinary black person the causer? If all the undocumented and illegal immigrants go back to their countries of origin, will the crime and unemployment levels significantly go down?
The disillusionment that political independence does not necessarily translate into economic independence and prosperity for the ordinary citizen is ear -deafening and unbearable. That there is a fierce competition for jobs and other economic opportunities with foreign nationals is incontestable. However, the problem is deeper and wider than what meets the eye. It is deeper and older than the adverse effects of the Covid-19. The pandemic could have worsened the situation but like the undocumented vendor who is selling his/her wares on a pavement, its disappearance is very unlikely going to be the ultimate panacea for the ordinary South African economic woes and poverty. All these two seem to be mere sacrificial lambs in a crude and cruel game of political and colonial machinations, perceptions and indoctrination, involving political participants, powers, multinational entities and entitlements.
The sooner these vigilante groups wake up and realise that the tragic realities of the shacks and abject poverty in these poor and marginalised communities is not coincidental and artificial the better for the country. The social problems which are faced by the ordinary black South Africans are structural or systemic and hence these transcend the emergence and existence of the pandemic and the immigrant populations. When all the key players accept these unfortunate realities, then meaningful, hopeful, honest and life-changing discourses and protests will begin. For now, what I see are nothing else but damaging, dangerous and deceiving purges and tragedies of prejudices, controversies, misconceptions and misdiagnoses of alarming proportions. These anti-black demonstrations and persecutions will not augur well for South Africa`s image and relations on the African continent and beyond.
There is no doubt that poverty is the main driver of this kind of anti-immigrant sentiment. Poverty is a pain and a stain no person should bear or parade. Economic growth is key. Poverty is mainly driven by joblessness, laziness, greed and the mismanagement and underutilisation of Africa’s abundant resources and options. The national cake is not shared and eaten equitably. That is another stark and sad reality. Economic parity is a rarity and an ideal in Africa. Corruption is a cancer. Selfless and exemplary leadership is a must if the ordinary citizens are to be redeemed from the yoke of economic and social frustration, dilapidation and deprivation.
Multifaceted Challenges and Charlatanism
The author believes that the current resurgent black- on- black persecutions that have risen their ugly head in that rainbow nation have serious social, legal, economic, political, cultural and psychological implications and complications. Only honesty will or can redeem the situation otherwise charlatanism will make sure that it resurfaces and rules time and again albeit in different shapes, sizes and colours in spite of the concerned outcries and from genuine victims and the affected communities and countries.
A Ticking Time Bomb
Socially, it means that South Africa is not only becoming an unsafe and unfortunate destination and nation by the passing of each day for the poor, undocumented and illegal black immigrants but also it is a potential danger zone for other black South Africans who could be over-zealously, randomly and wrongly harassed, arrested or detained by the South African police officers on a number of spurious grounds, including on the suspected and suspicious grounds of being an illegal immigrant.
Of Brothers and Bribery
For instance, one could be interrogated or arrested for failing to produce South African identification documents or for failing to prove one’s citizenship status by failing to state or identify the exact parts of the body in a manner that is deemed linguistically unconvincing by a police officer. It is a common secret that a number of South African police officers who stalk and interrogate pedestrians on the streets are motivated more by a personal ,hidden and selfish desire and agenda to grease their palms than to professionally keep law and order. Legally, this could trigger heightened citizens’ suspicions, resentment and even lawsuits.
Fans, Fears and Frustrations
The persecutions and killings have not only created a lot of fears, anxieties, controversies, debates, perceptions and misconceptions within and without the boundaries of South Africa about their real political, social and economic motives and nuances of the Dudula Vigilante groups, but more importantly, have isolated, questioned and dented the image of that beautiful Southern African country which Mandela wanted to be a rainbow nation. In a situation of desperation and frustration, it is easy to fall prey to populism and apportion the poverty blame on the next person who is also a victim of bigger conspiracies and principalities. Foreigners in South Africa now live in fear. This is not the first time. The brutal attacks and vilification against black immigrants are an exhibition of the presence of Afrophobia that is rooted in the minds of the coordinators and supporters of the violent attacks. Will the xenophobic attacks deter migrants?
The Problem of Solidarity in the Corridors of Power
The major chunk of the problems ordinary citizens have to contend with is that African leaders have a long tradition and history of babying the bad that other African leaders do in the spirit of promoting and protecting a false and skewed sense of solidarity, territorial integrity and brotherhood. It looks like it is their mission to protect their cohorts, clubs and friends at the expense of their nations and citizens.
They hardly call out or call to order the misdemeanours ,omissions and mismanagement of funds and votes etc by their incumbent colleagues and neighbours. For instance, it is fresh on our minds that the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki once deliberately trivialised the political and economic decay in Zimbabwe, and he did that in the glare of the world. He did that during our time of need. The year was 2008 after the country’s disputed March 29 elections. This is the kind of pan-africanism that l find dishonest and self- defeating.
Values and Norms
The tragedies and ironies of the spirit of Ubuntu are tragically playing out in today’s South Africa for the entire world to see. It is sad. Values are important in any given society because they constitute the glue of love, humility and humanity. Once a society or a people lose basic values, like beliefs in the respect for the sanctity of life, the fibre of that society becomes shameless, shambolic and shivery. What happened to the spirit of love, dignity, integrity, hospitability, brotherhood and sisterhood? If the fight for economic opportunities and survival means going on a road that dehumanises and destroys an innocent soul, then what happened to one`s inner voice? Is it dead? Vincent Van Gosh says, “Conscience is a man`s compass”.
The Spirit of Ubuntu is Threatened And Dying
Nelson Mandela preached and put a lot of emphasis on the need for a just society where even the blacks would be empowered, uplifted and respected: culturally, politically, socially and economically. Is that spirit of Ubuntu alive in South Africa? It is not dying,if not already dead and buried? Where is the spirit of empathy and sympathy in the senseless killings of black souls in cold blood for the mere reason that they are illegal immigrants or they are undocumented? This could seem like a kind of meting out mob justice by the disgruntled citizens, but it has long term consequences that are self- defeating and damaging. Where do these recurring spates of killings leave South Africa in a community of decent and democratic nations? How do they impact tourism? Justice? International relations?
Facing the Haunting Ghosts of the Past
Broadly, politically, socially and economically speaking, the capitalist and racist forces, the dishonest, corrupt , incompetent ,self-serving and greedy African leadership are all in complicit in this mayhem, whether they like it or lump it, whether they agree or disagree. That South Africa has a long road to achieve her socially equitable economic independence in spite of being one of Africa’s powerhouses, is beyond debate. Is there a political will to engage the key stakeholders? To hold the bulls by their horns?
South Africa has to look herself in the face and honestly and seriously face her social, economic and political divides and disparities .The majority of black South Africans still live in abject poverty. Though this sad reality or state of affairs has psychological, ideological and economic manifestations and implications, the victims of these inequalities ironically find themselves venting out their frustrations and sufferings on other political and economic victims from other African countries, who also happen to be black, poor and desperate.
Words Are Not Necessarily Actions
Is it not time and prudent for African leaders, businesspersons, political parties and the generality of Africans to discuss these unpleasant and perennial issues in a real, robust, honest and soul-searching manner? Black on black persecutions and killings will continue in South Africa as sickening skeletons in our closet if African journalists, citizens, writers, historians and activists continue to hide under an ostrich mentality that these unjustifiable and unacceptable levels of poverty ,corruption , brutality and social disparities dogging Africa will simply go away of their volition. That is an illusion! Let the selfish and myopic pretenders and puppets sit down, the concerned pan-africanists and patriots stand up and play their crucial roles or else history and their legacies will judge them harshly.
For a better, stronger and united Africa to emerge, concrete and corrective measures have to be taken. The meaningful conversations should be based on facts, not sentiment. They should not be grounded on exaggerations, indoctrination and misconceptions. For instance, poor and marginalised communities are neither a creation, a result, a manifestation of immigrant populations in South Africa nor coincidental and artificial but structural and systemic. Wrong diagnosis begets wrong medication. This is just a brotherly piece of advice.