For several weeks residents in parts of Gauteng have been at the mercy of a vigilante movement calling itself Operation Dudula that has been targeting foreign residents, especially shopkeepers.
Legitimate peaceful protest is legal and protected by our constitution.
But what we have seen is people taking the law into their own hands, burning stalls and intimidating those who are going about their business.
None of this is legal. Yet nobody from Operation Dudula has been arrested. Not one.
Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse has described Operation Dudula as an illegal operation that is not sanctioned by the city.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema says criminals are now running the country and intimidating South Africans openly in society.
Police have at times clashed with the protestors.
Three security guards defending the vendors, who retaliated by opening fire on protestors, were arrested and appeared in the Alexandra Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday where they were denied bail. They will face their day in court.
But what of the Dudula operatives?
Gauteng Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela says the police will enforce the law “without fear or favour or prejudice”.
We would like to believe him, but this is not what we are seeing on the ground.
In Alexandra on Tuesday a group of people calling themselves Dudula went stall by stall checking if the traders were locals or foreigners.
Those who could not produce South African identity cards were forcefully removed and their stalls dismantled and burnt.
Those who produced IDs were told that their documents were obtained illegally and were moved out of the stalls.
Vendors were judged by their skin tone. Those who appeared too dark were accused of being foreigners and evicted.
Through all this, police watched what was happening without intervening.
The recent commission into last July’s unrest, in which more than 300 people died, found serious failings in the performance of the South African police: poorly equipped police stations, inadequately trained and overwhelmed police.
What we know is that those who are targeting foreigners in a sea of unemployment and poverty are playing with fire.
President Cyril Ramaphosa claims that the security forces are ready to avoid any xenophobic flare-ups.
We would like to believe him.
But the police need to start by stopping the lawlessness before it is too late.