South Africa's upcoming Donald Trump
Nhlanhla "Lux" Mohlauli, a xenophobic agitator, is wooing impoverished Black voters by instilling fear of outsiders.
On May 27, Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla “Lux” Mohlauli danced a South African protest dance, followed by supporters in Johannesburg.
Lux, the charismatic millennial at the helm of Operation Dudula, a new South African movement terrorizing migrants from neighboring countries and instilling xenophobia, had just appeared in court for ransacking a house where he suspected drugs were being sold, and he had begun leading a defiant march back to his hometown of Soweto.
Lux and supporters were chanting anti-immigrant slogans and holding banners that read "South Africa First."
The 35-year-old is gaining notoriety in South Africa for his venomous tirades against immigrant African people, accusing them of taking local jobs and contributing to the country's high rate of violent crime. Operation Dudula, which means "eradicate" in Zulu, targets places of employment for Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and others, and its events have frequently become violent.
According to a reporter from Foreign Policy who spoke to Lux, immigrants who make up 5% of the population are easy scapegoats for an unemployment rate of 35%, young unemployment of 64%, and pervasive poverty.
South Africa is the most developed economy on the continent, luring migrants seeking a better life from poorer neighboring nations like Mozambique and Zimbabwe, while others travel from as far away as Somalia to avoid turmoil. Many of them have worked hard to build modest companies, including the establishment of spaza shops in townships.
Others work in restaurants, as cleaners and gardeners, or truck or Uber drivers. Analysts contend that these immigrants do occupations that South Africans don't want, with fewer rights, and that migrants really help the economy.
Outbreaks of xenophobic violence and anarchy have occurred, most notably in 2008, when more than 60 people were slain, and more recently in 2019, when roughly a dozen people were killed.
Some government ministers have not only failed to condemn xenophobia but have actively promoted it.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has finally condemned Operation Dudula. The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party's Julius Malema, South Africa's original populist rabble-rouser, has haughtily dismissed Lux as a "small boy", yet Malema looks to be mimicking him in certain respects.
After Lux speaks, he's surrounded by adoring fans, many of whom are wearing T-shirts with his face, demanding pictures.
The anti-immigrant message of Operation Dudula had obviously struck a chord with many of the participants, with one guy informing the police chief that “foreigners are roaming around our country, they’re doing whatever they want to do.”
Lux has grown in prominence in his neighborhood since July 2021, when South Africa saw some of the worst post-apartheid violence.
Operation Dudula began as an anti-looting operation, but it has subsequently evolved into an anti-immigrant campaign. While South Africans may be prosecuted for stealing food to eat, immigrants, according to Lux, are responsible for drug selling and "a large majority of violent crimes."
No time for sympathy
South Africans are rightly furious by the country's crime rates, which are among the highest in the world, and Lux is riding a wave of public indignation, but data reveal that foreign people comprise a minuscule fraction of the jail population.
“This is our country, and we’ll put South Africans first in South Africa,” Lux said.
In addition to not being scared of anyone, Lux stressed, said “We will meet force with force. … If you kill us we will have to at some point let our animal instinct of defending our lives kick in.”
Lux calls his house "the White House" and made some jokes about Monica Lewinsky.
On April 6, Lux and Operation Dudula went to Diepsloot, a poor informal community where corrugated iron shacks extend as far as the eye can see and people live in terror of violent crime, which many blame on foreign nationals.
Elvis Nyathi, a 43-year-old Zimbabwean father of four with a solid job as a gardener and six years in South Africa, was set on fire and burnt alive that night by a South African mob. The crowd had gone around the shacks asking to see the residency documents of the foreigners who lived there.
When questioned if he felt guilty for Nyathi's death and sad for his family, Lux responded, "I don't have enough info to feel sorry for Elvis's wife. I am busy mourning the lives of South Africans who died at the hands of foreigners.”
Of Donald Trump, Lux expressed said, “I don’t know if I liked the man, but I liked his views definitely."
“Putting Americans first in America and prioritizing Americans over illegal foreigners, man, that’s a no-brainer—it’s what Dudula does.”