If anything is to be said of the recent wave of Operation Dudula marches and “community interventions” to drive out all foreigners who came to look for employment in South Africa as led by self-proclaimed “prophet” of the marginalised, Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Dlamini, nothing comes closer than what Gwen Ngwenya tweeted last week. Ngwenya, who is a politician and Head of Policy for the Democratic Alliance, wrote a moving tweet that lays bare the problem of South Africa and the rise of populists who will use the ineffectiveness of government to fulfil their agenda.
Ngwenya tweeted: “There is no rule of law in South Africa. The law and its enforcers quiver before the powerful. And you know it’s the ‘end times’ of law & order because up from the rubble emerges a vigilante messiah who will uphold the law by any means, including his own lawlessness.”
Is Dudula a vigilante messiah or a patriotic movement?
I have keenly observed Dlamini since his bursting into the limelight as an action-hero movie character clad in bulletproof vest during the 2021 July riots where he took to the streets to defend Soweto’s Maponya Mall against looters. After that I met him as we were doing a television broadcast in Soweto where we provided analysis on the electricity issues in the township of Pimville towards the local government elections.
Dlamini’s media exposure post the July unrest propelled him to see himself as the “messiah” of the downtrodden. He was amid every community protest and at times seemed to selfishly weave himself into community issues for his own exposure. In his eloquence, he has been able to utter every form of rhetoric to stir the masses in his favour and hold them under his spell, an easy feat in a country like ours where the government – from top to bottom – is only visible during election campaigns.
Being the media darling saw Dlamini’s initiative morph from being “Soweto Parliament” to “Operation Dudula” – the latter meaning operation push or shove aside. It was the populism that came with the latter campaign that saw Dlamini who, to borrow from Ngwenya, became a “vigilante Messiah who will uphold the law by any means, including his own lawlessness”.
Government ministers and the question of Dudula’s backers
Dlamini’s star has continued to shine among those who believe in his cause. He has led marches in Johannesburg and Polokwane under the banner of “dealing with the issue of illegal foreigners (and drug dealers)” and in other instances he has posted videos of how he and his posses will be “patrolling borders” and provided some sort of commentary of government ministers’ alleged involvement in the influx of illegal foreign nationals. On other platforms he has spoken of how he is “working closely” with government ministers in his operations. For none of the statements he has uttered has Dlamini provided any proof.
Dlamini’s rhetoric has seen the rise of other movements like the Alex Dudula Movement which recently brought the suburb of Alexandra to a standstill. Alex is a hotbed for attacks against foreign nationals, having been the breeding ground for the 2008 and subsequent attacks. This Alexandra movement was quickly alienated by Dlamini’s broader “Operation Dudula” much to the confusion of people who believed that anything “Dudula” is associated with Dlamini’s messianic cause. With the Alexandra movement sprouting, Dlamini’s cause showed signs of snowballing into a national ravaging fire that we might not be able to contain.
Throughout all his marches, I kept on asking myself what the difference is between his initial duet of “Soweto Parliament” and what impact it achieved, alongside him going Bruce Willis on looters in July of 2021? Now with “Operation Dudula” and its marches, again I find myself asking who funds Dlamini’s marches and so-called “operations” and if this operation is a worthy cause?
My questioning of Dlamini’s “Dudula” cause is not out of his perceived “successes” by those who believe in it. I am just amused at how his marches are targeting “illegal” and “criminal” elements of African origin.
My questioning of Dlamini’s intent is supported by Andile Mngxitama, who in his New Frank Talk series, penned the thought-provoking essay: Whites are tourists, Blacks are kwerekweres. In this essay, Mngxitama writes:
“If I’m black and from the African continent and have seen what the government of South Africa has done to us in the past 14 years, I would run away with my fingerprints. The post-1994 state regularly sends out the message that black Africans are undesirables. The media portrays ‘illegals’ as criminals, there is every day public harassment by the police and the Home Affairs Department. These are part of the undeclared war against black Africans. The Lindela Repatriation Centre is a concentration camp reserved solely for black Africans. There are no white kwerekweres in our country. If you are white, you get your papers chop-chop, actually you don’t need them because no police are going to be strip searching you in the street. Cynically, some of the politicians denouncing the Alex people are beneficiaries of Lindela blood money.”
Operation Dudula has not once marched to the SAPS headquarters and asked about the police strategy in combating the scourge of drugs. Never once has Dlamini led his charges to Home Affairs to ask about the strategy of border and influx control. Never has he nor any member of his leadership structure (if even there is one) marched to Famous Brands and other companies to ask about the employment quotas for franchisees.
Instead, his marches and campaigns have been against black bodies who find themselves, like South Africans, disenfranchised by their governments. In all this, Dlamini has been saying they are “working with government”, a frivolous claim as the minister of police recently addressed a media briefing denouncing Operational Dudula and its antics.
We can debate this, but for me Dudula is no different from a captured movement that is meant to spark the fire of black-on-black violence – no different from the Zulu nationalist Inkatha of the late 1980s and early 90s.
In its conviction, Dlamini’s Dudula believes that black African migrants are the problem. “The other” that must be dealt with. The Chinese and their inhumane labour practices are fine. The East Europeans and their drug cartels in Bedfordview are fine and the numbers of undocumented Asians now found at every corner in black neighbourhoods are fine. It is only the black ones taking jobs and bringing drugs.
Dlamini has led Dudula against blacks while being clad in white with Ethiopian colours, and can be seen in one video speaking about the need for pan-Africanism and how Africans should come together.
When brothers fight, a stranger inherits the estate
Dlamini’s public spat with the Economic Freedom Fighters over the alleged ransacking of an EFF member’s home on the accusation of it being a drug den is another issue to be combed through.
While members and supporters of Dudula and those of the EFF were toyi-toying outside the Dobsonville police station and ready for their “messiahs” to shout a charge to attack, the gains of our freedom were reversed. Two of the country’s parastatals, Transnet and Eskom, asked the National Treasury for permission to exempt them from the Preferential Public Procurement Framework Act.
So, Dudula and EFF were baying for each other’s blood and calling each other names in a scramble for media coverage while government was giving a “free pass” to parastatals allowing them to exclude black businesses from accessing contracts with these institutions? What a wow.
What else have we missed while the media is shining the spotlight on Dlamini and theatrics? What other national agenda have we missed while obsessing with Operation Dudula and their absent bravado clad in militia gear a la MK vets who were toddlers when the country went for its first democratic elections?
Well, I can bet you that many are not aware of impending Eskom tariff hikes, the shrinkage of the grocery trolley and impending public transport hikes due to high petrol prices. How about the call for public comment on the health regulations?
Dlamini’s incarceration drew the support of pseudo-politician Kenny Kunene who, when addressing Dlamini’s followers outside the Johannesburg Central Police Station, made all sorts of crowd-enthusing remarks. These ranged from Dlamini being at the risk of poisoning, or “jumping” out of the window – an apartheid excuse for political prisoners who were reportedly thrown to their death by the then Security Branch.
The most outrageous and dangerous of Kunene’s statements was the reference to Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, as a “cockroach”. I wondered if Kunene, as a former teacher, in his quest for limelight, remembered how the term “cockroach” in reference to another human led to the atrocious ethnic cleansing in Rwanda?
Egos and populism
In my discussion with Mngxitama on the topic of black collective politics I asked him what is it that keeps black people from failing to come together, and if there are possibilities of bringing like-minded black movements together.
Mngxitama, being the straight shooter that he is, did not mince his words. He indicated the ills of egos as well as avarice where black movements are prepared to sell each other out at the sight of the rand. Mngxitama went on to express his belief that black movements are caught up in institutionalised disunity.
Just like the voice of the biblical John crying out alone in the wilderness, Mngxitama’s observations are not off the mark. There are a lot of egos in movements like “Dudula” and its “Soweto Parliament” alter ego as well, as the EFF witnessed with the Dobsonville face-off. This is not limited only to the two. It is a pervasive problem.
EFF press conferences have mostly turned into a Malema soliloquy while the “Operation Dudula” media blitz has been about Dlamini as the be-all and end-all of the “people’s revolution”. This is evident by Dlamini’s post on social media. The one that caught my attention was a tweet where he declared:
“Thanks to these swak politicians that invest money weekly in negative PR against me, u have helped my name reach every corner of SA”
This is nothing but a reflection of an egotistical declaration which has no slight hint of being a movement that has the interests of the people at heart. With every video and every post being about him, Dlamini’s antics are nothing but a pronouncement of an attention-seeking and power-hungry “vigilante messiah who will uphold the law by any means, including his own lawlessness”, as Ngwenya aptly put it in her tweet.
History will be the judge
I am not pronouncing a verdict on what Dlamini and his “Operation Dudula” are. I will leave that to history to determine. Whether Dlamini and his posse and their efforts are what South Africa needs to get back on track and for the forgotten and despondent voters to achieve the promised “better life for all”, only time will tell.
If it’s a smokescreen that paints itself as a true cause of the people while distracting South Africans – mainly blacks – from serious issues while its leader is wining and dining with those who are withholding and keeping economic equity, time will reveal all. If it is populist opportunism, then we are in deep brown stuff. Time will judge us and harshly it will.
For our sake. For the sake of the masses that continue to believe in Dlamini and his Dudula. For the sake of our country, for the sake of peace, stability, and progress, let’s hope Dlamini’s bluff really works to his advantage and that of the disadvantaged people whom he claims to be fighting for. I hope this is really a push for the positive and not just a political smokescreen or populist gimmick that many opportunists continue to throw at the hungry masses, so help us God.
But only time will tell. For now, we continue to watch the exhibition.