Operation Dudula accused of targeting children

Asked to comment, spokesperson swears at GroundUp reporter and slams down phone

By Tariro Washinyira

1 February 2023

Operation Dudula says the Gauteng school budget must be spent on South African children only. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Activist organisation Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (KAAX) has accused Operation Dudula of running a campaign to pull immigrant children out of classrooms in Diepsloot, Johannesburg.

In a statement on 30 January, KAAX quoted a WhatsApp message signed by Che Serobedi from Operation Dudula Diepsloot, calling on members and parents of school-going children to attend a mass meeting on 26 January.

“All leaners/children who did not get space at all local schools will be put in classes and foreigners who are learners will be removed from classes,” the message read. “As Operation Dudula Diepsloot branch and parents we can’t allow South African children to be out of school this year. Foreigners are accommodated and learning in our public schools … No retreat no surrender.”

GroundUp’s repeated attempts to contact Serobedi to confirm the origin and contents of the message were unsuccessful. After several phone calls to him without getting a reply, we repeatedly called Operation Dudula national spokesperson Zandile Dabula, but her phone went unanswered. We left a WhatsApp message which was not read. Finally, on Tuesday Serobedi returned our call.

He wanted to know if GroundUp was a Zimbabwean publication. Asked why this was important, and urged to answer the allegations from KAAX, he replied: “I won’t answer, that’s rude. The Gauteng Department of Education budget is for South African children. Fuck you …”. He then slammed down the phone.

“Targeting children is the height of cowardice,” said KAAX.

The organisation said it acknowledged that there was a crisis in Grade 1 in Gauteng, where approximately 5,000 children are yet to be placed in school. “However, we strongly condemn laying the blame on migrant families and targeting kids of six and seven years, for the Department of Education’s failures to plan adequately.

“This action takes place at the same time that Operation Dudula members are removing people including pregnant women and small children without South Africa IDs from public clinics. Several clinics have been attacked in the last week.”

“The Constitution guarantees the rights to health and education to ‘everyone’ and the courts have explicitly confirmed that no child, regardless of status, can be denied access to the public school system and that no person may be denied access to primary health care. Operation Dudula’s statements and actions in this regard are flagrantly unlawful.”

“We demand that the police as well as the Departments of Basic Education and Health uphold the law and do their jobs”

Gauteng Department of Education spokesperson Steve Mabona told GroundUp on Wednesday that the department “is aware of the WhatsApp messages that were circulating in the community”.

“However, schools were not disturbed as teaching and learning resumed as normal on the said day.”

Mabona said the department’s walk-in centre was still open to help new applicants for places in schools.