Agence France-Presse, February 19, 2022
They turned up in a mob of several hundred at a migrant centre in South Africa’s Soweto township — unemployed, wielding weapons and angry with foreigners they accuse of taking their jobs.
“Foreigners, go home,” they cried, according to witnesses.
With unemployment at 35 percent — and rising up to 65 percent among youth — competition for jobs has spawned resentment among some jobless South Africans.
In the past, xenophobic protests have morphed into violence. Attacks against foreigners left at least 62 people dead in 2008, while another seven were killed in similar unrest in 2015.
Armed mobs descended on foreign-owned businesses around the financial hub Johannesburg in 2019. The ensuing clashes left at least 12 people dead, of whom 10 were South African, according to the government.
In recent weeks, scores of protesters have been staging demonstrations against undocumented migrants in what they have dubbed Operation Dudula, Zulu for “drive back”.
At the Methodist migrant community centre in Soweto, where about 100 migrant families live, there had been rumours of an attack.
But the Operation Dudula movement says it is pacifist.
Its leader Nhlanhla Lux Dlamini, a man in his thirties from Soweto who often dresses in a military uniform and bullet-proof vest, says he is simply seeking to “restore law and order”.
“The law enforcement is failing us,” he has told reporters.
On Saturday, Dlamini was among some 2,000 people protesting in Johannesburg’s inner-city suburb of Hillbrow.
Among the crowd, Bhekani Thusi, 38, was one of those who said they were “tired of foreigners”.
“We are here to claim our land back. Our space is occupied by foreigners,” he said.
Around 3.9 million foreigners live in South Africa, a country of almost 60 million, including political refugees, according to official statistics.
At the start of the month, the government said it was working on a law to install a quota for foreign workers in South African companies.