The Discriminatory Practice of Language Testing for Authenticating Citizenship: An Analysis of Operation Dudula Through a Forensic Linguistics Lens




Language tests, proficiency, citizenship, xenophobia, immigrants, Operation Dudula, Ryanair Airlines, forensic linguistics


This article utilises both the theoretical and practical lenses located in the discipline of forensic linguistics to examine the practice of administering language tests to applicants for citizenship in South Africa, considering the prevailing policies and practices in an international context, and concludes that they should be avoided. In this interdisciplinary article I outline the South African constitutional and legislative provisions affecting language testing and language proficiency when applying for citizenship in multilingual South Africa. In this paper I discuss the linkages between language, citizenship, and xenophobia, building on the work by Brits, Kaschula and Docrat on the role of language in xenophobic attacks and protests. I argue that language tests for immigrants in the South African context perpetuate Apartheid-era thinking, policies and practices. This creates linguistic inequality and contributes to racial tensions and divisions in communities rather than creating social cohesion and equality for all. The article provides a case study of Operation Dudula, where language is being used to carry out xenophobic acts under the banner of citizenship. A brief comparison is drawn with Ryanair airlines' language tests for South African citizens.


Download data is not yet available.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Zakeera Docrat, University of the Western Cape

BA BA Honours (cum laude) LLB MA (cum laude) PhD. National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of African Language Studies, University of the Western Cape.




Alexander N Thoughts on the New South Africa (Jacana Johannesburg 2013)

Alubafi MF, Ramphalile M and Rankoana AS "The Shifting Image of Black Women's Hair in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa" 2018 Cogent Social Sciences 1-15 DOI:

Currie I and De Waal J The Bill of Rights Handbook 6th ed (Juta Cape Town 2013)

Docrat Z "A Review of Linguistic Qualifications and Training for Legal Professionals and Judicial Officers: A Call for Linguistic Equality in South Africa's Legal Profession" 2022 IJSL 1711-1731 DOI:

Docrat Z The Role of African Languages in the South of African Legal System: Towards a Transformative Agenda (MA dissertation Rhodes University 2017)

Docrat Z, Kaschula RH and Ralarala MK A Handbook on Legal Languages and the Quest for Linguistic Equality in South Africa and Beyond (Sun Press Stellenbosch 2021) DOI:

Eastman CM "Sociolinguistics in Africa: Language Planning" in Herbert RK (ed) Language and Society in Africa: The Theory and Practice of Sociolinguistics (Witwatersrand University Press Johannesburg 1992) 95-114

Ellermann A "Discrimination in Migration and Citizenship" 2020 Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 2463-2479 DOI:

Klaaren J "Contested Citizenship in South Africa" in Andrews P and Ellmann S (eds) The Post-Apartheid Constitutions: Perspectives on South Africa's Basic Law (Wits University Press Johannesburg 2001) 304-325

McLean D "Guarding Against 'the Bourgeois Revolution': Some Aspects of Language Planning in the Context of National Democratic Struggle" in Herbert RK (ed) Language and Society in Africa: The Theory and Practice of Sociolinguistics (Witwatersrand University Press Johannesburg 1992) 151-161

Olsson J Forensic Linguistics 2nd ed (Continuum New York 2008)

Reagan TG "Language Ideology in the Language Planning Process: Two African Case Studies" 1986 South African Journal of African Languages 94-97 DOI:

Robertson K, Hohmann J and Stewart I "Dictating to One of 'Us': The Migration of Mrs Freer" 2005 Macquarie Law Journal 241-275

Shohamy E and McNamara T "Language Tests for Citizenship, Immigration, and Asylum" 2009 Language Assessment Quarterly: An International Journal 45-59 DOI:

Case law

Khosa v Minister of Social Development 2004 6 SA 505 (CC)


Australian Immigration Restriction Act, 1901

Citizenship Amendment Act 17 of 2010

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995

Government publications

GN 1122 in GG 36054 of 28 December 2012 (Regulations on the South African Citizenship Act)

International instruments

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Internet sources

AmaShabalala M 2022 Video of Motsoaledi's Attack on Criminal Illegal Foreigners Goes Viral accessed 14 April 2023

Brits K, Kaschula RH and Docrat Z 2020 Integrating Languages Should Form Part of South Africa's Xenophobia Solutions accessed 14 April 2023

Gordon S 2022 Xenophobia is on the Rise in South Africa: Scholars Weigh in on the Migrant Question accessed 14 April 2023

Halpin P and Sishi S 2022 Ryanair Forces South Africans to Prove Nationality with Afrikaans Test accessed 14 April 2023

Jeftha D 2022 Afrikaans Language Board Slams Ryanair Test accessed 14 April 2023

Myeni T 2022 What is Operation Dudula, South Africa's Anti-Migration Vigilante? accessed 14 April 2023

Staff Reporter 2022 Patients Being Turned Away from Tshwane Hospital 'Based on Accent', Warns MSF accessed 14 April 2023

Statistics South Africa 2011 Census accessed 21 October 201



How to Cite

Docrat, Z. (2024). The Discriminatory Practice of Language Testing for Authenticating Citizenship: An Analysis of Operation Dudula Through a Forensic Linguistics Lens. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 27, (Published on 29 February 2024) pp 1–27.



Special Edition: Language and Law

Similar Articles

<< < 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.