Lawyer Austin Dube, who represents foreign nationals in Alexandra, says his clients will no longer be sitting ducks.
He said he was approached by a group of more than 68 people after violence flared this week. He said they have been restrained but now they are fed up.
“I met with them on Monday and I said to them that today we return to our posts — five at a time,” he said on Friday. “The plan was to do exactly as the Dudula Movement members had done. We went to law enforcement agencies and got no help, we went to the councillors and also got no assistance, so we wanted to do as they do but without assaulting anyone. We decided that we would only defend ourselves if needs be because we were not getting help anywhere.”
Dube said his clients have no problem adhering to the law — even those without permits to operate. “Immigration and home affairs came in [on Thursday and Friday] and those without the proper documentation were taken by authorities without a fight,” he said.
A vegetable vendor outside Pan African Mall in Alexandra, who identified himself only as Mabunda, said: “It’s sad because we have been trading there for years with South Africans and now third forces who have nothing to do with our businesses are interfering and causing our own colleagues to turn against us.”
The Mozambican national said he was willing to die to secure his livelihood.
“In the same way that they have responsibilities, so do we. There is more than enough to go around for everyone,” he said.
Meanwhile, a South African trader in another part of the township, who identified himself as Rasta Nhlanhla, said he had also been a victim of the Dudula Movement.
“When they came here they demanded that the next day I carry my ID so that they could confirm I am South African simply because I speak Sesotho. I get what they are trying to do but there is no place for this in the SA of today,” he said.
Groups such as the Dudula Movement say they want to root out foreign nationals to secure jobs for South Africans, but professor Loren Landau of Wits University’s African Centre for Migration and Society said their actions may have the opposite effect.
“We have [political] parties — old and new running on anti-immigrant sentiments. This may win votes, but evicting foreigners will do nothing to create jobs, houses or the security South Africans need. If anything, it will hurt by destroying business, limiting regional trade and tarnishing Brand SA across the continent,” he said.
“As these movements gain legitimacy across townships and elsewhere, they are effectively appropriating government’s role in determining who can live where, who can work, who can own business, and who enforces regulations.”
Dudula Movement leader Simon Tsatsi said his group is only doing what the government is failing to do. He said Johannesburg’s metro police don’t enforce bylaws that ensure foreign traders have permits, the SA Police Service fails to catch foreign criminals and home affairs fails to ensure foreign traders are in the country legally and have the necessary permits.
Tsatsi said the department of economic development fails to provide job and business opportunities for the youth, and the departments of social development and human settlements fail to ensure RDP houses are allocated to their rightful recipients.
However, Landau said the groups’s actions undermine the rule of law.
“In Alex, Hillbrow or anywhere else, their representatives speak about ‘enforcing laws’ that the government won’t but the truth is they are making and enforcing laws of their own. And these are not laws in line with the constitution or that can be challenged in court. These are laws that may be widely accepted by community members but can only be enforced through violence,” he said.
The African Diaspora Forum’s Ngqabutho Mabhena said it is concerned about a brewing conflagration.
“We do understand that [they] are raising genuine concerns of unemployment… but we have migrants that contribute to the economy of SA some of them as business people. They have documents that allow them to be in the country, running legal businesses and paying taxes,” he said.
“We do accept that there are some [migrants] who are not documented but the number of the undocumented have risen during the pandemic as migrants are struggling to renew the asylum documents through the online process.
“We believe there is a need for a serious dialogue about the distribution of wealth in SA and the [southern African] region.”