His trial on Monday followed his arrest last week due to a criminal complaint lodged against him for assault, intimidation, and burglary by Victor Ramerafe, a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Dlamini is the leader of a self-styled anti-illegal immigration militia called Operation Dudula. The group has been accused of masterminding the raids of shops and local businesses belonging to foreigners as well as demanding that they be fired from low-skilled jobs.
The EFF, South Africa’s third-largest political organisation, is led by the outspoken Julius Malema. Its leaders stood by Ramerafe, who is accused by Dlamini and his group of selling drugs and harbouring illegal foreigners inside his home.
Ramerafe has denied the claims.
Kwena Molekwa, the secretary of Put South Africans First, a sister organisation of Operation Dudula, claimed that the charges against Dlamini are trumped-up.
“We believe that these charges are politically motivated,” she said. “Twenty squad cars came to arrest Nhlanhla like he’s a terrorist, and when you look at the charges, the police response is disproportionate.”
Molekwa also said both organisations are not primarily anti-immigrant but are only seeking “the enforcement of immigration and labour laws that have been undermined for a very long time. Drugs and counterfeit goods are destroying our communities and the government does not have the will to address such issues.”
For years, anti-immigrant sentiments have caused violent clashes in township communities around the country. Undocumented immigrants have been mostly targeted with accusations of engaging in criminal activity and taking jobs from citizens, despite South Africa’s staggering 35% unemployment rate.
According to the official census, South Africa is home to an estimated 3.95 million foreigners as of 2021. By the government’s own admission, there is no data that accounts for illegal foreigners.
Blessing (last name withheld), an undocumented immigrant who works as a street vendor, says she has lived under the constant fear of xenophobic violence. “I have been in this country for 10 years, my children were born in this country but the people of this country hate us,” she said, asking for her surname to be withheld for fear of retribution.
She stood outside the court during Dlamini’s bail hearing – hoping that he did not make bail.
“My children also do not have birth certificates. I am very scared for them. Maybe if their leader is locked away, we will have peace again.”
The South African police have not outrightly condemned Operation Dudula, despite widespread concern over escalating tension in townships, where the movement enjoys increasing support.
“Everyone has a right to protest, demonstrate and march, as long as they do that peacefully and within the parameters of the law,” Gauteng Spokesperson for the police service, Colonel Dimakatso Sello, told Al Jazeera.
But she also said the police would not tolerate “any formation or groups who take the law into their own hands”.