OPINION | Ivan Katsere: Operation Dudula is the legitimisation of black hatred in South Africa

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Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla Lux Mohlauli addresses Soweto residents.
Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla Lux Mohlauli addresses Soweto residents.
Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle

The final break to the social fabric of blackness in South Africa is upon us and it dictates that black people should be regulated to compete for the lower societal strata, writes University of Cape Town PhD candidate Ivan Katsere


The worst treatment humans have suffered in the world has been at the hands of other humans. Some of the worst experiences suffered by black people in the world have been at hands of other black people. 

Racism and racialisation have been prominent in paving the way for the ill-treatment of humans, and discrimination based on colour. They are sources of dehumanising justifications that provide a template essential in the mobilisation of hateful attitudes, and underlying stereotypes which had no validation or confirmation. Racism and racialisation simultaneously serve as bias confirmations, catalysing and activating biases into actions. 

In their absence, stereotypes are not activated, perceptions about seeking jobs are not transformed into Afrophobia, and I contend that, a misconception of colonial dominance will not find mobilisation in Operation Dudula in the absence of racism and racialisation. 

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The history of blackness has been marred by atrocious experiences at the hands of dominating races. I acknowledge this. In addition, I outline that although black people cannot be racist due to the lack of the resources that enable the dominance of another race through the adoption of a classist structure, and nationalistic politics of belonging from racism creates a perception of dominance that promotes an illusion of racial superiority. 

Although black people cannot technically be racist, they can abuse their nationalistic identity to adopt mechanisms of dominance that ward off other black people to the fringes of society and eradicate them from social capital. It is this adaptation of a demonising and vile system that gives black people the ability to racialise and pervade racism. This is, in my assertion, the worst form of discrimination as it is the adoption of one race's system of dominance to dominate and eradicate one's own race. 

Operation Dudula is relevant to the neo-nationalistic politics of today

Operation Dudula is a function of the recycled idea of nationalism that has dominated the world and is on a significant rise in recent years. Through this ideology, the values and "original" characteristics of the nation are seemingly prioritised and perceived as compromised by the presence of a certain group of people. In most cases, as the case is in America, immigrants are scapegoated as solely responsible for compromising nationalistic values.  

"And how do men and women know that they belong to this community? Because they define the others who do not belong, should not belong, who never can belong. In other words, by the xenophobia. And because we live in an era when all other human relations and values are in crisis...xenophobia looks like becoming the mass ideology of the 20th Century" (Hobsbawm, 1992, p. 8). 

Recycled nationalistic ideology in the modern day has taken the form of xenophobia in other parts of the world, but has been adopted to be applicable mostly to black Africans in South Africa, a state of Afrophobia. The nationalistic politics in South Africa are abused to target and cast black Africans out of the society, ripping them of their human qualities and dehumanising them to animals (Katsere, 2019). 

The "Put South Africa First" is essential at problematising blackness and black people first in South Africa. The unspoken and very intentional meaning in the "Put South Africa First" discourse is the intentional exclusion of black non-South African "Others". This exclusionary power is paired with an intentional and never-uttered inclusion of White non-South Africans as tourists, expats or merely the untouchable elite "superiotised", "Other", located as the "wanted", "welcome and untouchable".

Operation Dudula Racialising the African Other - criminalising black Africans

Racism unfolds through a combination of two principles, which are inferiorisation and deprivation. The inferiorisation of the most deprived leads to forms of racial segregation or to an exclusion in which the most deprived aspects are social, economic and not racial in nature (Wieviorka, 1995). Racism, therefore, becomes a mode of management of the two principles (Inferiorisation and Deprivation) and its various concrete expressions are merely so many distinct modalities of a biologization which resolves the tension or contradiction between the two (Wieviorka, 1995, p. 120).

Operation Dudula is organised Afrophobia designed ONLY to dehumanise and eliminate black Africans from South Africa. The discourse of Operation Dudula is consistent with promoting the narratives of excluding black bodies from South Africa and formalising Afrophobia. Operation Dudula and Afrophobia are active violations in South Africa that are incepted by dehumanisation, depriving, and criminalising black Africans for the problems that are occurrent in South Africa. The dehumanisation of black Africans is intentionally used as a tool to dismiss their humanness and justify their inhumane treatment (Katsere, 2019). 

black non-South Africans in South Africa are viewed by Operation Dudula through the prism of colonial and racist framework, that regarded black people in South Africa as plunderers who came to rob, steal, and most obviously sell drugs to their children, and not fitting of humane treatment. They are perceived as entities that should not be part of the human community based on prejudices, stereotypes, and similar negative anti-migrant discourses and attitudes. 

The focus of Operation Dudula is not on the countering of the criminal implications that South Africa has faced through migrant-committed crimes. Crime remains statistically high in South Africa. According to its 2016/17 annual report, the SAPS was able to detect perpetrators in only 23.9% of murders and in 17.9% of aggravated robberies. This means that, in more than 75% of murders and in over 80% of aggravated robberies, the police have no idea who the perpetrators are (Newham, 2017). It, therefore, isn't possible to make accurate assertions that undocumented foreign nationals commit most crimes in South Africa.

The same criteria of targeting migrants that dominate Operation Dudula have also been proven to be dysfunctional by the South African Police Services' 2015 Operation Fiela. This operation only targeted illegal immigrants and arrested 15 396 black foreign nationals for repatriation. When police target groups of people, most arrests for the violent crimes will be of the people who match that profile (Newham, 2017). 

Addressing the actual problems in South Africa society 

South African means of production are still in the hands of the White population. The elite in South Africa remain the only detractors to accessing the South African economy through the monopolisation of resources (Zulu, 2022). Three decades after the independence of South Africa, South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the elite being evidenced to occupy much more of the economy and provided with unlimited access looting the coffers of the country which directly increases poverty for black South Africans. 

The World Bank has been able to ascertain that race plays a key factor in a society exemplified by South Africa where 10% of population owns more than 80% of wealth (The World Bank, 2022). According to Aljazeera (2022, p. 2), "race remains a key driver of high inequality in South Africa, due to its impact on education and the labour market".

Operation Dudula is an active pervasion of already existing inequality in South Africa as it actively brings black people to the fore of fighting for minimum wage jobs and for the insignificant portion of the economy. They still neglect the reformation of the societal structure that the colonial regime left in place, and resort to actively advancing it and advocating for it. 

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The purpose served by Operation Dudula is not quintessential to the liberties independence promised. The emancipation of the black race cannot be undermined to the struggle and spillage of black blood for the minimum wage band of the economy. Operation Dudula deviates black bodies from the economy, focusing them on blackness alone and not economic emancipation, reserving the elitist social and economic progress mostly to White people. The unconscious, but blatant precedence being set by Operation Dudula is that of a nation that relegates black people to jobs that were designed for them by the colonial system. 

Operation Dudula typifies the economic advancement of racism, and black South Africans should abandon the ideology that they should fight for occupation of low strata jobs. black people should be active participants in the South African economy who are not relegated to be servers and drivers. 

"We sound very self-hating about the very notion of immigration, but we're actually just confusing racism with a desire to fix the immigration system" (Cummin, 2019, p. 1).

- Katsere is PhD Candidate at the Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town. 

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