Operation Dudula agrees to stop illegal eviction letters, shopkeepers agree to withdraw charges

Operation Dudula members have, over the past several weeks, been issuing illegal eviction notices to foreign-owned or run shops in Orange Grove, Johannesburg.

Members of Operation Dudula’s Orange Grove branch have agreed to stop issuing illegal eviction letters after meeting foreign shopkeepers in the area. 

The three-hour meeting took place at the Norwood police station on Sunday. Both parties said afterwards they were happy with how it went. The police confirmed that they had facilitated the meeting. 

“They [Operation Dudula] have agreed to apologise and withdraw the letter,” said Solly Owa, a representative of the recently formed Orange Grove Foreign Shop Committee, who attended the meeting. “They have agreed to work with us.” 

dudula picket
Operation Dudula members picket at the Department of Transport Offices on 19 June 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

In return, Owa said, shop owners who had opened cases of intimidation against Operation Dudula members would withdraw them.

Operation Dudula members have, over the past several weeks, been issuing illegal eviction notices to foreign-owned or run shops in the area. They have alleged that the foreigners are the cause of the neighbourhood’s ills, including drugs and prostitution.

The letters, titled “Attention Non South African business operator”, gave the owners seven days to vacate their business premises. Many of those targeted have their businesses on Louis Botha Avenue. 

In response, the shopkeepers were encouraged to open cases of intimidation against the Operation Dudula members and were assisted by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa. A SAPS provincial task team has been set up to investigate Operation Dudula. 

Speaking after the meeting on Sunday, the spokesperson for Operation Dudula’s Orange Grove branch, Oupa Prophet Ngwato, said his organisation had never intended to go through with the evictions after the seven days had elapsed.  

“Our letter was a statement of concern. When we were distributing the letters to the people we kept on telling them to read them in their own time and then when you finish reading it, if you need to respond, do so accordingly. But unfortunately, the response has only been to the police,” said Ngwato, adding that the letters had a positive outcome in that they had led to dialogue between his group and the foreign shop owners. 

dudula cape town
Just over a hundred protesters march through the Central Business District of Cape Town at the launch of the Western Cape branch of Operation Dudula on 14 May 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

However, several shopkeepers who received the eviction letters told Daily Maverick last week that they feared for their safety and were considering returning to their home countries, even after years spent in South Africa.  

The shopkeepers were even asked to sign for the letters. 

A Cameroonian, Princess Alven Menju, said on the night before the deadline expired she didn’t sleep and on the day she didn’t open her takeaway shop. 

Ngwato said. “Seven days have passed and what happened to our fellow Africans? Nothing happened. But what has happened is that we have received a response at least, and the response that we have received is that they have opened a case against us.”

The meeting came a day after a Nigerian shopkeeper, an alleged victim of Operation Dudula, was arrested on a charge of intimidation and assault.

The man was arrested by police at his shop on Saturday afternoon and held at the Norwood police station for several hours before he was granted bail.  

Community members said his arrest came after he told Ngwato that he would get him arrested. Ngwato had laid the charge. The shopkeeper was unavailable for comment on Monday afternoon, the day he was supposed to appear in court. 

Ngwato claimed the shopkeeper had verbally and physically assaulted him when he walked past his shop on Louis Botha Avenue. Previously, members of Operation Dudula had attacked the shop and one man had been arrested. In a video of the incident, Operation Dudula members can be seen upending cooler boxes of food. 

The meeting came as the founder of Operation Dudula, Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini, plans to march from Soweto on Tuesday, 21 June to the office of the Joburg mayor. This is part of a protest action designed to shut down Soweto. 

Dlamini had directed his followers not to issue eviction letters, saying this order had to come from the executive of the organisation. The Orange Grove branch had, however, decided to issue the letters.  

In a parliamentary police portfolio committee meeting this month to analyse the recently released fourth-quarter crime statistics for 2021/2022, researcher Nicolette van Zyl-Gous pointed out that many murders in South Africa were mob killings motivated by vigilantism. 

“This points to a high level of distrust in the criminal justice system,” she told the committee.

“I have stated here that it is clear that I think communities are having difficulty with conflict resolution.”

This article was previously published on Daily Maverick

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