Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Mohlauli – hero, vigilante or shrewd opportunist?

By Michael Appel

Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Mohlauli has shot to prominence in recent months as the leader of a grouping called Operation Dudula. The movement – which claims to have no political leanings of any sort – is intent on dealing with illegal immigrants and the proliferation of drugs and prostitution in communities. This is something he’s content to die for he says.

Mohlauli – forever clad in military fatigues complete with bulletproof vest – is out on R1,500 bail after his initial arrest on several charges, including housebreaking, theft and malicious damage to property. Operation Dudula members are accused of ransacking the home of Soweto resident Victor Ramerafe whom they accuse of selling drugs. The trial was postponed to 27 May following Monday’s bail application.

DOBSONVILLE, SOUTH AFRICA – MARCH 20: Operation Dudula leadership meeting at Dorthy Nyembe Park on March 20, 2022 in Dobsonville, South Africa. This meeting is planned to take stock of their successes and failures. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

But who is the 35-year-old Mohlauli, and should South Africans be sitting up and taking notice of Operation Dudula?

Even though it claims not to have any political aspirations at present, its leader is certainly an interesting and ambitious character with a diverse set of accomplishments to his name. A renaissance man of sorts, he has proven quite adept at being able to transcend and blend between the ultra-wealthy and the unemployed alike. He has or had the ear of those in business and politics. I’m talking heavyweights.

Below you can watch my interview with political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga about what he makes of Operation Dudula and its leader.

My first glimpse of the man was during the July unrest last year when looting and destruction had spread across the provincial border from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng. There he was giving interviews to the media, proudly proclaiming he was protecting Maponya Mall in Soweto from looters. You can watch the video he uploaded to his channel in July last year here. As always, he was kitted out in camouflage attire. Emblazoned on his cap was the initials SDF. That acronym didn’t ring a bell but upon investigation, I’ve learnt it stands for Soweto Defence Force. Interesting that.

He was something of a darling of the media and just hasn’t left our screens since. But the context in which he’s being talked about now is shifting. He was lauded as a protector of public infrastructure and the township economy at a time when law and order had all but collapsed during the unrest. He wasn’t unique, of course, as so many other members of the public also took it upon themselves to set up makeshift units to defend and protect shops and businesses. But this guy’s star just kept on rising. There are, as you will see, many more layers to the man.

The Soweto local Mohlauli matriculated from St David’s Marist Inanda in 2005, after which he started studying politics at the University of Johannesburg.

According to reports, around 2007, he left South Africa to go teach sports development in China for a year before returning to South Africa. In about 2008/09, Mohlauli studied golf through the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) and eventually took up the mantle of golf pro. On a Twitter account he stopped using in 2013, he described himself as a “golf development activist”.

This is corroborated by this reference to him as a “Sunshine and PGA Tour professional” in this December 2019 article that speaks about his work in “pioneering the development of girls’ golf in underprivileged areas”.

The new Twitter profile he started in June 2014 under the name he now goes by, Nhlanhla Lux, has over 82,000 followers … quite the difference.

According to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), Mohlauli was the sole director of aviation charter company Native Airways, with the CC registered back in April 2007. He was just 20-years-old at the time. In a March 2015 article in Bona Magazine, Mohlauli speaks about his desire to qualify as a pilot before age 30.

It’s unclear when Native Airways started trading but the company’s first Instagram picture was only uploaded in June 2017 and the last post was in September 2018. The CIPC states that in October 2018, the closed corporation was “in process of deregistration”. Native Airways’ website no longer exists.

Let’s put being the leader of Operation Dudula aside for a second. This is an incredibly multi-faceted individual. Complex and layered. Clearly smart. Clearly shrewd. Clearly entrepreneurial. It seems he is pretty flush, as well, and isn’t afraid to flaunt it in the slightest. You may be tempted to think his nickname ‘Lux’ comes from his love of luxury goods; a cursory glance at his Instagram profile reveals a smorgasbord of McLarens, Aston Martins, and Audemars Piguet watches. But, it was originally ‘Lucks’ as Nhlanhla means ‘lucky’ in isiZulu.

On top of everything, Mohlauli is also the president of something called the Soweto Parliament. Once again, it’s not a structure or organisation I’m familiar with. The Facebook page for the organisation states: “Our mandate is to ensure that our ethnic South African cultures and languages are fully protected and enjoy equal share in the billion dollar economy of Soweto.”

No matter where you go, it’s the Nhlanhla Lux show. He’s on every social media platform. The man hustles hard, switching between outfits as he goes. He talks a big game and sees Operation Dudula as an umbrella body that can bring about serious change in South Africa. Take this comment he made while being interviewed on the MacG Podcast recently: “If the numbers of the EFF, and our [Operation Dudula] ground forces came together, and the ANCYL came together, and Cosas came together, we’d take the land back in seven working days. I’m not joking.”

As a parting shot, if you’d like to watch a rather bizarre video of him running on a treadmill with a handgun strapped to his leg and an assault rifle in hand, then you can watch it here. It goes on for almost three minutes and 29 seconds too long.

BizNews reached out to Mohlauli several times on various platforms requesting an interview but to no avail. The offer stands.

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