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Rethinking the Discourse of homo sacer (Sacred Man) in the Context of Vigilante Operation Dudula in South African Low-Income Communities

John Mhandu


Published: 2024/03/01


The article examines the role played by the anti-immigration militia group Operation Dudula in instigating and propagating black-on-black killings in low-income South African communities. It uses the recent killing of a Zimbabwean migrant, Elvis Nyathi, which stirred up the flames of xenophobia. Supplementary anecdotal evidence is also drawn from 12 in-depth interviews with participants who witnessed the cases of Elvis Nyathi and other victims of violence against foreign nationals. The article argues that Elvis Nyathi’s case is an example of how migrants in South African low-income communities are exposed to murderous violence and stripped of political significance. Theoretical insights are gained from Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer concept to trace the extent to which Operation Dudula sees undocumented Zimbabwean migrants as persons outside the protections of the law who are to be expunged from mainstream South African society and deprived of all rights. The article lays bare the moralist position taken by this anti-immigrant group that migrants are to be treated as homo sacer (sacred man). The article augments Agamben’s thoughtful ideas given Aristotle’s insight that man is a social animal who cannot live in isolation. The main argument herein is that Operation Dudula does not exist in isolation. South Africans must create relationships with the migrants in their communities. Keywords: Bare life, Homo sacer, Migrants, Operation Dulula, Elvis Nyathi, Vigilantism

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