Refugee leaders arrested

Alex Benjamin, from Congo, paints his frustration in Burg Street.

The man leading several hundred refugees, who have occupied a city church, faces assault charges and is due to appear in court tomorrow, Friday January 10, for a bail hearing.

The Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square in the city centre had to call off its first Sunday service of the year last week due to ongoing strife among the 800-odd refugees who have been living there since October but are now caught up in a row between their leaders.

JP Balous was arrested on New Year’s Day. He faces eight charges of assault, including five for assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm.

Mr Balous was arrested after a dispute at the church on Sunday December 29 when his leadership rival Papi Sumaki and others accused him of selectively distributing aid refusing help from charity groups such as the Gift of the Givers and the Red Cross Society.

A fight broke out outside the church and at least six people were attacked with pangas and bricks, according to refugees who spoke to the CapeTowner.

Late last year, the City of Cape Town applied in the Western Cape High Court for an urgent interdict to evacuate the refugees, citing by-law violations, but the court told it to find an alternative solution.

The City told the Capetowner the matter would be heard again in the high court on Tuesday January 28 but did not respond to other questions by deadline.

Mr Balous was denied bail when he first appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday January 3. The court heard that he is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a father of three and has an address in Parow Valley.

The State asked for a postponement of the bail proceedings to confirm his details.

Three people who claimed to have been among those injured in the fighting outside the church on Sunday December 29, however, said they did not believe Mr Balous was to blame.

Iyke Chibuzor said he had been rushed to hospital with head injuries after being attacked with a panga and his phone had also been destroyed.

He said he had opened a case of assault, although this could not be confirmed with the police by deadline.

Another alleged victim, Daniel Maduagwe, said he was attacked with bricks and hospitalised. “I, too, went to open a case, but the police told me to wait.”

Meanwhile, police confirmed on Friday that a second refugee leader had been arrested. According to Cape Town police spokesman Captain Ezra October, the man faces an outstanding robbery charge.

Aline Bukuru, a spokeswoman for the refugees, accused the City of doing nothing to help them find alternative accommodation.

Ms Bakuru said meetings would be held with the leaders of the group as well as the South African Human Rights Commission, the City and the police, among others, during the course of the week, adding that the refugees would stay at the church until a solution was found.

The refugees first sought shelter at the church after they were evicted, on Wednesday October 30, from the nearby Waldorf Arcade, where they had protested for weeks, claiming they felt unsafe in South Africa.

The South African Human Rights Commission did not respond to enquiries from the CapeTowner at the time of going to print.

Meanwhile, a business which is being directly affected by the refugees living on Greenmarket Square and in Burg Street, said they were fed up, and were spearheading a petition to remedy the situation.

Speaking to the CapeTowner on condition of anonymity, business owners said they were tired of having to clean human faeces and urine from the front of their store.

They said the situation had worsened, as the refugees were now camping right in front of the business entrance – sometimes cooking and braiding hair.

They said the City had failed in their duty to enforce by-laws, or provide proper accommodation for the people, and they were now going to engage with other businesses in the area to try to make a statement.

The angry owners said they were losing around 700 customers a day because of the situation.

They said they would contact all the surrounding businesses and get an advocate if needed.