A new investigation by BBC Africa Eye for BBC World Service has found that xenophobia is on the rise in South Africa, with anti-migrant groups becoming increasingly active and violent.
The investigation, titled “Fear and Loathing in South Africa,” explores the socio-economic factors and xenophobic beliefs that fuel anti-migrant rhetoric among citizens.
One of the groups featured in the investigation is Operation Dudula, an anti-migrant group turned political party. The group is accused of vigilantism and promoting xenophobia and hate speech.
BBC Africa Eye footage shows Dudula members conducting regular patrol operations and raids to forcibly expel migrants from their businesses and homes, often illegally. Some of these videos are subsequently posted on a pro-Dudula website which shows even more attacks on migrants.
Critics accuse Operation Dudula of targeting some of the most vulnerable groups in society. One victim of an attack by the group said that he was told to leave his home by members of the group, even though he is a South African citizen.
The documentary also highlights how Operation Dudula’s activities and raids are fueled by xenophobic rhetoric that blames migrants for economic breakdown and crime. Zandile Dabula, president of Operation Dudula, told BBC Africa Eye that migrants were working on a “20-year plan to take over South Africa.” However, when asked to verify this claim, she admitted that it was a rumour.
The documentary also explores why locals are joining the movement. One member of Operation Dudula claimed that migrants were responsible for her son’s drug addiction.
During an operation in Diepkloof, Dudula members visited a migrant shopkeeper’s home after receiving a tip off from his landlady that he was not paying rent. BBC Africa Eye recorded the moment when the shopkeeper was aggressively pressured into signing a written agreement which would force him to evacuate his property within two months. On camera, a Dudula member told the business owner, “If you are disrespectful to us, we will beat you up. I have a whip right there.”
Operation Dudula’s leadership denies promoting violence. Zandile Dabula told BBC Africa Eye, “In some cases, you need to be really firm. We don’t endorse violence, and we don’t want people to feel harassed. But I’ll tell you that at some point, we really need to push harder because it’s an undeniable truth.”
During their conference in Johannesburg, BBC Africa Eye recorded the moment when Operation Dudula announced that it had become a political party and will contest in elections next year.
The BBC Africa Eye investigation has revealed a disturbing trend of xenophobia and violence against migrants in South Africa. It is important to note that the vast majority of South Africans are not xenophobic, but the activities of groups like Operation Dudula are causing widespread fear and uncertainty among migrant communities.
The South African government must take immediate action to address the root causes of xenophobia and to protect the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their nationality.