“F*kof,” was how police minister Bheki Cele was greeted by the Pimville community in Soweto on Wednesday afternoon.
He spent the morning in a debrief at the Kliptown police station after Kgomotso Vincent Diale, a father of two, was gunned down at the Chicken Farm informal settlement on Monday.
On Tuesday night, members of Operation Dudula and residents in Pimville gathered at a secret location to discuss how they would react to the murder.
Diale, 44, was killed and others wounded in high-calibre gunfire after Operation Dudula members and the Pimville community members met so-called foreign nationals in Kliptown, Soweto.
The reason for going to Chicken Farm is unclear.
Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla Lux said residents were en route to meet and “protect” workers installing electricity cables after cable thieves caused recent continuous blackouts throughout Pimville.
Thabo Ramakutwane, 53, is a resident in Pimville Zone 6. He was on Klipspruit Valley Road with the residents when a gunman opened fire on the crowd.
“There is a myth that the people stealing the electrical cables are foreigners from Chicken Farm; we wanted to speak to them to say ‘stop it’.
“It was maybe a minute [after they met residents at the informal settlement] when someone came behind us firing shots.
“They were up the road but it sounded like more gunfire was coming from within Chicken Farm.
“As we ran, a man was hit in the hip and fell across the road. We took him with us hoping we could get him a taxi to the hospital. A woman was shot in the left arm as we ran.”
On Wednesday, all that was left of the event was police tape flapping in the wind where Diale had fallen.
But the air was thick with the smell of electrical smoke as Eskom and City Power teams disconnected dangerous illegal electricity lines.
The teams had been met with ire earlier as some residents hurled stones at them.
At 12.50pm Cele emerged from the Kliptown police station, travelling to the scene where Diale was killed, then the family home. Residents and Dudula members gathered outside and Cele later addressed them from the back of a vehicle.
“I’ve been briefed by police,” Cele began. “The electricity is disrupted every day without fail.”
He said it seemed the local police “couldn’t help at all”.
The crowd responded with “yes”.
“I spoke to police and they said they don’t have the tools to help and that criminals have more weapons than cops. We need to provide.”
He said the station would be given 10 new vehicles and a team of 12 detectives dedicated to solving Monday’s crime.
“First prize is we get the people who did this and they must be apprehended within at least 48 hours.”
But Cele was cut off by Operation Dudula members.
Lux got up and said he needed to speak to the minister.
“If we are met with crime and people like you [Cele] are not doing anything, we are forced to act … The people will rise up and the people will lead …”
When the minister got his stage back he promised to come for a follow-up visit next Thursday.
The crowd responded: “If the murderers are not caught in 48 hours we will close Kliptown police station.”
Cele tried to placate them, saying that was not the right way to solve the issue.
And the crowd responded “48 hours”.
‘DUDULA REMINDS OF PAGAD’
An expert has warned that groups like Dudula had the potential to affect large parts of the country and to end in severe violent clashes.
Some have called Operation Dudula a vigilante group after they conducted raids in Alexandra and Diepsloot.
This led to the death of 43-year-old Elvis Nyathi, a Zimbabwean gardener and father of four who was killed by a group going through homes in Diepsloot on April 8, demanding documents. He was beaten to death and burnt.
Criminologist and lecturer Dr Guy Lamb of Stellenbosch University likened Operation Dudula to the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) group formed in 1996 in the Cape Flats.
The group’s origins were as a community organisation but it soon became known for vigilante acts committing arson, murder and planting bombs around Cape Town.
The organisation came to prominence for acts of vigilante violence against gangsters, including arson and murder.
Lamb said Dudula was happening in certain areas but had the potential to build into something bigger, “with a contagious effect like we saw in 2008”.
The May 2008 xenophobia riots left 62 people dead, including 21 South Africans.
“[Dudula] is gaining momentum, with a useful comparison to Pagad in the 1990s. They started by lobbying as an anti-crime group but then committed acts of vigilantism — taking the law into their own hands.”
He said when groups such as these committed acts of social protest, if there was no clear leadership direction and discipline, there were likely to be events of mob violence.
“We often get — in the example of anti-crime groups engaging in vigilantism — crowds forming and making decisions [like] to march to a house. The group takes over and often the individuals punish [the victim], burn house and so on.”
Lamb said at present there were allegations of Operation Dudula operating as far afield as Delft in Cape Town.
“The Dudula label seems to be used opportunistically to brand groups in different areas who feel the same way [about foreign nationals]. The danger is that given the [current] economic conditions Dudula is used as scapegoating [blaming foreigners for lack of jobs and so on].”
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi warned that the violence was a ticking time bomb and on Wednesday Lux agreed.
“The minister is correct. We can’t suppress South Africans who will rise up at some point — Indians are closing shops and joining us, Afrikaans boys are exploding … We’re being called vigilantes, but in a country where citizens are allowed to make citizen arrests you can’t call us vigilantes — meaning individuals effecting without authority, but the constitutions gives me the authority.” – Timeslive