Rival refugees in stand-off

JP Balous was accused of threatening South African Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen at the Western Cape High Court.

Rival refugee groups living on Greenmarket Square have opened at least four cases at the police station since last Wednesday January 29.

Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said the cases, opened against the factions living inside and outside the Central Methodist Church, relate to intimidation and assault.

No one has been arrested as yet.

The charges follow an altercation between the two groups on Thursday January 30, after the refugees living outside on the streets moved boxes in front of the door of the church, blocking the passage for people to go outside for air during the night.

One of the refugees living inside the church was stabbed in the face with a broken bottle. The groups were split earlier during a power struggle between JP Balous and Papi Sumaki.

Mr Sumaki and others accused Mr Balous of selectively distributing aid, refusing help from charity groups such as the Gift of the Givers and the Red Cross Society (“Refugee leaders arrested”, CapeTowner, January 9).

Both Mr Balous and Mr Sumaki were arrested and are out on bail, with one of the conditions being that they are barred from entering the city centre, unless it is to go to court.

Richard Kigiri, from Burundi, who lives inside the church, said the people living outside had blocked the doors on Thursday night, and the men had asked them to move so that they could have more space to step out for fresh air.

He said when he realised there was a fight, he saw someone with a knife aimed at a friend and pushed his friend out of the firing line. Another man then came with a broken bottle and stabbed him in the face.

Mr Kigiri was rushed to hospital and was treated for his wounds. He said he went to open a case the following day.

One of the leaders, Sandra Bahibitugu, said she and a few of the other leaders had tried to break up the fight as well, but the situation got out of hand fast.

She said while they await the judgement, they were trying to be patient and make the living space work, but the people outside the church are making it difficult.

She said earlier this week, a woman who lived inside the church was beaten up by another woman after she emptied a bottle of water outside. Police were on the scene to calm the situation, but no charges were laid.

“It’s becoming difficult so we are just trying to live. We don’t know what our next move will be yet – we are waiting on the judgment.”

Meanwhile, Captain October said South African Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen laid a charge of intimidation, also over the weekend, following an alleged threat by refugee leader JP Balous at the Cape Town High Court on Monday January 28. It was reported that Mr Nissen would no longer be involved in the plight of refugees after Mr Balous threatened to kill him at the Western Cape High Court before the application by the City Council against the group came on the roll.

The City filed for an urgent order to enforce its by-laws as the protest by refugees on Greenmarket Square had become a crisis which was affecting traders, businesses and tourism in the city.

The commission also said Mr Balous was personally involved in the physical assault of members of the clergy in which Mr Nissen was injured in November, and that they were seeking legal advice.

The CapeTowner could not reach Mr Nissen for comment by the time this edition went to print. The case was postponed to Monday February 17 for judgement. (“Refugee case postponed”, CapeTowner, January 30).

The refugees have been living at the church since October, when they sought shelter after they were evicted from outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in St George’s Mall.

The protesters say their lives are in danger in South Africa, and want to live anywhere else but in the country.

Sunday services had also been postponed until further notice due to the situation at the church.