DISPLACED MIGRANTS

Church refugee leader’s bail conditions restrict him from CBD

By Sandisiwe Shoba 9 January 2020

Refugees and asylum seekers wait anxiously to hear whether they will be forced to leave the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town on 13 December. (Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba)

The Central Methodist Church in Cape Town, where displaced migrants have been living for more than two months, has become a battleground. Factions formed after two leaders had a falling out over the holiday period. Then both were arrested for separate alleged offences. Papy Sukami was released on bail on Thursday, with Jean-Pierre Balous due to reappear in court on Friday.

Igwe! Igwe!” chanted a group of more than 50 refugees and asylum seekers who had gathered outside the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Thursday morning.

Igwe, an Igbo term used to address a king, was being directed at refugee leader Papy Sukami, who had just been released from police custody on R2,000 bail.

Sukami, who has been part of the group of displaced migrants living at the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square, made two brief appearances before magistrate Reaz Kahn.

His case had been postponed from earlier this week on Monday, 6 January pending today’s bail application.

His initial bail conditions were, that after his release, Sukami would be barred from re-entering the Cape Town CBD.

Significantly, this is where the Central Methodist Church is located.

Shortly after his initial appearance, he was called back to the courtroom where bail conditions were amended. Sukami will now be allowed to come into the CBD — with the purposes of going to Home Affairs — provided he gets permission to do so from the police.

He was arrested last week on Friday, 3 January, on charges of assault and robbery relating to an incident outside the UNHCR offices in October 2019. Sukami, accompanied by a few men, allegedly robbed two Congolese freelance journalists: Jurol Loemba and Serge Shaumba (who was also assaulted).

Loemba and Shaumba laid the charges in mid-October, after which they released a statement to the media, accusing Sukami of being the “ring leader of a gang”.

Back at the church, the once perceived unity between the displaced migrants has been eroded. They have split into two “camps”, one supporting Sukami and another aligned with Jean-Pierre Balous, the supposed “official” refugee leader.

The split happened on 29 December last year, after heated arguments erupted between Balous, Sukami and their respective supporters.

Police had to release a stun grenade in Greenmarket square to break up what had become a physical altercation.

Three people were arrested that night for the alleged possession of dangerous weapons.

According to previous reports, Sukami had accused Balous of “abusing power”, misleading refugees and chasing away aid organisations like Gift of the Givers.

Balous is currently under arrest, facing eight charges of assault. He is due to re-appear at the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday, 10 January. The embattled “leader” is also representing the displaced migrants in a court case with the City of Cape Town, which was postponed to 22 January.

Sukami’s faction has been banished outside the church where they’ve set up make-shift tents on Longmarket and Burg street.

When Daily Maverick visited the church on Tuesday, one refugee, Kande Serge Kande, said that those sleeping outside were not permitted to enter the church, claiming that he was afraid he would be “killed” if he even tried.

Outside court on Thursday, Sukami told the media he could not comment on the case but, when asked where he would be residing given his bail conditions, he simply told Daily Maverick “somewhere else”.

After exiting the court, Sukami was escorted into a vehicle, whilst being mobbed by his supporters, who sang and cheered jubilantly.

They surrounded the car which drove ceremoniously through town towards the Methodist Church, where an ecstatic group of roughly a hundred more displaced migrants joined the crowd as the vehicle drove past the church.

A small number of “JP” Balous’ cohort stood nearby and were visibly agitated as they looked on. Some had their arms crossed while others scowled.

Sukami’s next appearance is set for 13 March 2020.

Last month the City approached the Western Cape High Court for an interdict against the church for conducting a sit-in and contravening public space by-laws. The City claimed that the group was disrupting business in and around Greenmarket Square. The courts refrained from granting the order, instead, talks have been underway to secure alternative accommodation for the group and sort out documentation issues. DM

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