Maverick Citizen

JOHANNESBURG XENOPHOBIA

Nigeria’s Consul-General steps in as Operation Dudula truce falls apart in Orange Grove

A tearful Emilie Luvadiokueno from Kinshasa, Republic of Congo, (DRC) sits in the remains of her store at the Yeoville market in Johannesburg. The predominently Congolese shops were destroyed by an alleged arson attack. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

An uneasy truce struck between Operation Dudula and foreign shop owners in Orange Grove, Johannesburg, has fallen apart. The Consul-General of Nigeria has now acted to assist his country’s nationals.

Representatives from the Nigerian Orange Grove community visited the Nigerian Consulate General on Friday where they were advised to open criminal cases against Operation Dudula members who had, in recent weeks, launched an alleged campaign of intimidation against them.

This comes a week after Operation Dudula and members of the recently formed Orange Grove Foreign Shop Committee held a meeting facilitated by the Norwood police. According to those at the three-hour meeting, an agreement had been reached.

Members of Operation Dudula’s Orange Grove branch agreed to stop issuing illegal eviction letters, and in return, the foreign shop owners would withdraw the charges laid against them. Operation Dudula would also apologise to the shopkeepers.

“The problem is that they have refused to apologise,” said a member of the committee, who declined to give his name.

On Monday morning, non-South African shopkeepers returned to the Norwood police station to provide statements in support of the cases they had opened.

“We have about 35 shops and about 14 of them (shopkeepers) have opened cases,” said Chris Njoku, a Nigerian community leader for the Orange Grove area.

The cases are linked to alleged intimidation and vandalism committed by members of Operation Dudula’s Orange Grove branch. Over the past few weeks, members of the vigilante group have been targeting foreign-owned shops, predominantly along Louis Botha Avenue. They handed out “eviction letters” ordering owners to vacate their premises in seven days.

Later, members of Operation Dudula claimed they had no intention of following through with the evictions and that the purpose of the letters was to open up a dialogue with foreigners in the area.

Operation Dudula ‘will not apologise to foreigners’

However, Operation Dudula general secretary Zandile Dabula said her organisation would not “apologise to foreigners”.

Chris Njoku said that he and two other representatives from the Orange Grove community were asked by the Consulate General to brief them on what was happening in the suburb.

“They advised us that affected individuals should go to the police and open up cases,” he said. 

“They promised to give legal support wherever it is needed. In fact, the Consul-General promised that should it go to court, he will send a representative.”

Daily Maverick was unable to reach the Nigerian Consul-General for comment. Last week, the Consulate General issued a statement on the fire that broke out at the Yeoville market in the early hours of Tuesday morning. 

Foreigners with stalls at the market say the blaze was started by members of Operation Dudula. The fire destroyed two Nigerian-owned shops, among others.

The statement called on the Nigerian community to exercise restraint and remain law-abiding while South African authorities investigated the cause of the fire. There are reports of WhatsApp messages circulating where foreign nationals are threatening to retaliate against Operation Dudula.

“However, the [Nigerian] Mission wishes to renew its earlier calls for the reinforcement of security in areas with significant populations of foreign nationals in view of the recent threats of attack by  ‘Operation Dudula’,” the statement reads.

Gauteng provincial police spokesperson, Colonel Mavela Masondo, said police are investigating an incident in which suspects might have been targeting foreigners. Last Friday, Norwood police arrested five suspects for pointing a firearm and trespassing.

“More charges might be added, pending the investigation. All suspects appeared at Hillbrow court and four were denied bail. Police obtained statements from witnesses who are members of the community,” Masondo said.

Operation Dudula’s Orange Grove branch has blamed crime in the area on foreigners, claiming they are behind drug dealing and sex work – allegations denied by the foreign nationals.

“They should not paint everybody with the same brush. Crime doesn’t have nationalities… it doesn’t have colour… it doesn’t have race, therefore we must deal with the crime,” said Njoku. MC/DM

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