By Ayanda Charlie successful Johannesburg & Tamasin Ford successful London
BBC Africa Eye
South African vigilante radical Operation Dudula has go notorious for raiding businesses belonging to overseas nationals and forcing shops to close. BBC Africa Eye has gained uncommon entree to members of the country's most-prominent anti-migrant thoroughfare movement.
In a schoolhouse room successful Kwa Thema, a township eastbound of Johannesburg, Dimakatso Makoena is engaged making sandwiches. The 57-year-old azygous genitor of 3 has been a navigator determination for much than 10 years.
"To archer you the truth, I hatred foreigners. How I privation they could conscionable battalion and spell and permission our country," she says, warring backmost tears.
It is hard to recognize the spot of this hatred until Ms Makoena pulls retired her telephone to amusement a representation of her son. Emaciated with a glazed look successful his eyes, aggravated pain scars dispersed implicit his body, up his arms and crossed his face.
"He started smoking drugs erstwhile helium was 14 years old," she says, explaining however her lad often goes retired to bargain things to provender his habit. One time helium had tried to instrumentality immoderate powerfulness cables to merchantability erstwhile helium got electrocuted and burned.
Her lad uses crystal meth and nyaope, a highly addictive thoroughfare cause that has devastated communities crossed South Africa. It is not until she blames foreigners for selling the drugs that her reasoning and enactment for Operation Dudula becomes clear.
"Dudula, that's the lone happening that keeps maine going," she tells the BBC.
Operation Dudula was set-up successful Soweto 2 years ago, the archetypal radical to formalise what had been sporadic waves of xenophobia-fuelled vigilante attacks successful South Africa that day backmost to soon aft white-minority regularisation ended successful 1994. It calls itself a civic movement, moving connected an anti-migrant platform, with the connection "dudula" meaning "to unit out" successful Zulu.
Soweto was astatine the forefront of anti-apartheid absorption and location to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's archetypal democratically elected president. Now, the township has go the location of the country's most-prominent anti-migrant group.
With 1 successful 3 South Africans retired of enactment successful 1 of the astir unequal societies successful the world, foreigners successful wide person go an casual target.
But the fig of migrants surviving successful South Africa has been grossly exaggerated. According to a 2022 study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an autarkic probe organisation based successful the capital, Pretoria, determination are astir 3.95 cardinal migrants successful South Africa, making up 6.5% of the population, a fig successful enactment with planetary norms. This fig includes each immigrants, irrespective of ineligible presumption oregon wherever they travel from.
The xenophobic rhetoric utilized by immoderate nationalist officials, politicians and anti-migrant groups has helped substance the story that the state is overrun with migrants. The South African Social Attitudes Survey for 2021 recovered that astir fractional of the colonisation of 60 cardinal radical believed determination were betwixt 17 and 40 cardinal immigrants successful the country.
Current polling suggests enactment for the governing African National Congress (ANC), the enactment erstwhile led by Mr Mandela, could autumn beneath 50% for the archetypal time.
Operation Dudula has ambitions to capable that vacuum and has present transformed itself from a section anti-migrant radical into a nationalist governmental party, stating its aims to contention adjacent year's wide election.
We indispensable beryllium realistic present that astir of the problems that we person are caused by the influx of overseas nationals. Our state is simply a mess"
Zandile Dabula, who was voted successful arsenic president of Operation Dudula successful June 2023, is calm, charismatic and emphatic astir the group's message: "foreigners" are the basal origin of South Africa's economical hardship.
When it is enactment to her that this run is based solely connected hate, she tells the BBC: "We indispensable beryllium realistic present that astir of the problems that we person are caused by the influx of overseas nationals.
"Our state is simply a mess. Foreign nationals are moving connected a 20-year program of taking implicit South Africa."
When challenged connected the veracity of this 20-year plan, she admits it was a rumour but says she believes it is true.
"You spot drugs everyplace and astir of the cause addicts are South African alternatively than overseas nationals. So, what's happening? Are they feeding our ain brothers and sisters truthful that it tin beryllium casual for them to instrumentality over?" she says.
Yet the choler meted retired to migrants tin beryllium connected those who are successful the state legally and moving successful ineligible occupations. A Nigerian marketplace trader, who was the people of a raid by Operation Dudula members successful Johannesburg earlier successful the year, tells the BBC that the 2 women who tasered him and destroyed his apparel by throwing them successful the gutter did not halt to inquire questions.
As they changeable helium says they swore astatine him, saying: "You indispensable spell to Nigeria… We are Dudula, we are South African."
With nary stock, helium is present sleeping connected the streets: "I ballot successful this country. I americium a national here. I've ne'er seen a state treating radical similar this. If I'm doing thing illegal, fine. Deport me. But I'm not doing thing illegal. Now you marque my beingness miserable, I can't wage my rent. I privation to go, it's excessively much."
Operation Dudula maintains it is interest implicit the immense influx of drugs into South Africa's astir deprived communities that is their astir pressing complaint, but determination is nary information to backmost up the assertion that radical who merchantability drugs are not South African citizens.
Comparative statistic are not disposable for cause crimes, though the ISS study quotes the justness curate arsenic saying that immigrants made up 8.5% of each convicted cases successful 2019 and 7.1% successful 2020. The ISS adds that 2.3% of inmates incarcerated each twelvemonth are undocumented foreigners.
In Diepkloof, successful eastbound Soweto, the BBC joins a alleged Dudula taskforce. Men successful trucks are going to face a Mozambican shopkeeper who a South African landlady alleges has not paid his rent.
It is expected to beryllium a dialog but rapidly descends into a confrontation wherever 1 of the men, Mandla Lenkosi, threatens to bushed him up. When the BBC asks them astir their thuggish behaviour, they support they are enforcing the law.
Mr Lenkosi, besides from Soweto and retired of work, takes portion successful raids connected migrant homes and workplaces, radical who are suspected of thing from cause dealing to remaining successful the state past their visa date.
We grew up successful apartheid times, wherever things were overmuch amended than what it is now"
"We grew up successful apartheid times, wherever things were overmuch amended than what it is now," helium says, pointing to the cause problems. "The instrumentality was the instrumentality [then]."
His chap Dudula supporter, Cedric Stone, agrees: "South Africa needs to spell backmost to the aged South Africa that we know.
"Our fathers started the tuck shops but contiguous each those tuck shops are each foreigners, especially, Bangladeshis, Somali and Ethiopians. Why?"
President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken retired against anti-migrant protests, and condemned vigilante groups for harassing and attacking migrants. He has likened their behaviour to strategies adopted by the apartheid authorities to oppress achromatic communities.
In 2019 helium launched the National Action Plan to combat racism and xenophobia, yet campaigners privation the authorities bash more.
Annie Michaels, an activistic from the Johannesburg Migrants Advisory Panel, says South Africans are blaming the incorrect radical for their ills and should successful information respect migrants for their endurance skills.
"Stop sitting and complaining and dying successful that country and waiting for the authorities that is failing you connected a regular basis," she tells the BBC.
"The migrants… are the poorest of the poor. They would alternatively spell to them and rattle them, alternatively of rattling the cages of the guys surviving successful the solid houses."
For her part, Ms Dabula says critics of Operation Dudula who support it is simply a corporate of convulsive vigilantes are wrong.
"We don't beforehand unit and we don't privation radical to consciousness harassed," but adds: "We cannot beryllium overtaken by overseas nationals and bash thing astir it."
Hundreds of supporters travelled to be its archetypal nationalist league successful Johannesburg successful May, wherever members voted to registry the radical arsenic a governmental party.
Waving South African flags, dancing and singing their mode done the streets to the City Hall, it feels similar a celebration.
However, the songs they are singing transportation a threatening message: "Burn the foreigner. We volition spell to the garage, bargain immoderate petrol and pain the foreigner."
The subject covering harks backmost to South Africa's liberation struggle. It each communicates a readiness for battle.
Ms Makoena is besides there, smiling and dressed successful her enactment T-shirt. "Operation Dudula is going to marque past today," she says.
On stage, Isaac Lesole, Operation Dudula's method adviser, has a question for the cheering supporters: "Do we marque bid with amerciable foreigners?"
"No," the assemblage outcry backmost successful unison.
Operation Dudula does not person a manifesto oregon immoderate argumentation different than its stance connected foreigners, though Ms Dabula maintains it has a beingness successful each state but Northern Cape.
Supporters of the caller enactment who spoke to the BBC look to genuinely privation things to beryllium fixed successful their communities. They bespeak a alteration of temper successful South Africa's governmental scenery with radical fed up with the presumption quo.
However, a toxic premix of poverty, drugs and fearfulness has resulted successful a blasted crippled wherever migrants person go the scapegoats.