More than three thousand illegal immigrants stopped by soldiers in April


April saw an escalation in xenophobia in South Africa with at least one death – that of a Zimbabwean at the hands of an angry mob in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg – and attacks on foreigners in three provinces.

Against this background a stretched SA Army deployment of 15 companies is patrolling the country’s land borders in a seemingly Sisyphean task of halting the flow of illegal immigrants.

As in March, April again saw soldiers intercept more Mozambicans and Zimbabweans than from any of the other four countries sharing South Africa’s 4 862 km long land border, the latest available Joint Operations Division statistics for Operation Corona show.

The number of Mozambicans – 1 774 – apprehended by soldiers and handed to police and Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials in April was 329 less than in March. Zimbabweans wanting out from the country governed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and seeking the proverbial better life in South Africa in April but not making it, numbered 1 574. This is 429 less than those who attempted to illegally immigrate in March.

Other borders where illegal immigrants’ ill-founded expeditions were halted by soldiers are Lesotho (310 on the Eastern Cape border and 65 on the Free State border), North West/Botswana (22), Northern Cape/Namibia (14) and KwaZulu-Natal/Eswatini (four).

All told, soldiers handed 3 763 illegal immigrants to police and immigration officials for processing and deportation in April.

Over 30 kg of copper was taken from smugglers attempting to move the sought-after metal into Lesotho from South Africa. On the Limpopo/Zimbabwe border, soldiers prevented 26 kg of the metal from leaving the country.

Soldiers patrolling the mountain kingdom’s border with South Africa in Free State also prevented livestock – cattle, goats and sheep – valued at close on R1.5 million from leaving the country.

Contraband goods, ranging from narcotics (mostly dagga) through to liquor, cigarettes, clothing and footwear, was taken from smugglers attempting to access South African markets on the Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe borders.

Anti-immigration sentiment has seen an unregistered community organisation called Operation Dudula (‘force out’ or ‘knock down’) force undocumented foreigners out of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Labelled by some as “xenophobic and dangerous”, it was founded in Soweto a few months after the July 2021 riots.

The organisation claims its campaign is driven by the burden placed on public health services, job opportunities and social grants due to an “influx of illegal immigrants”.

“Undocumented immigrants have become the main scapegoat for South Africa’s poverty and unemployment problem. From this maelstrom has emerged Operation Dudula, which positions itself as a legitimate voice for South Africans with a sense of grievance against foreigners,” online publication Daily Maverick reports.

“Operation Dudula, according to founder Nhlanhla Lux, has its roots in citizens’ frustrations at a lack of decisive government action to eradicate criminal elements in communities. Consisting mainly of residents from Soweto, Operation Dudula blames undocumented immigrants for rising levels of crime, drug dealing and prostitution syndicates in townships and the inner city of Johannesburg.”

The movement has spread to KwaZulu-Natal and North West since first surfacing in Gauteng.