South Africa


City wins in High Court bid to enforce by-law to curb activities of Greenmarket Square refugees

Displaced migrants take shelter at the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square after being evicted from the UN High Commission for Refugees offices where they had staged a sit-in on October 30, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

The City of Cape Town has been granted an interim order to enforce its by-law against refugees living outside the Central Methodist Mission. This prevents them from sleeping, cooking, lighting fires, and conducting other activities near the popular tourist spot.

Judge Daniel Thulare delivered a lengthy court judgment on Monday, 17 February, allowing the City of Cape Town to enforce its public space by-law against refugees sleeping on Greenmarket Square.

This means the group, which has been living in and around the Methodist church for the past four months, is barred from engaging in activities which include: 

  • Sleeping on the pavements outside the church and Greenmarket Square;
  • Erecting structures (tents and other shelter);
  • Intimidating, harassing or assaulting City officials and members of the public;
  • Damaging City property and facility;
  • Preventing people from entering and/or exiting the church, and
  • Washing clothes, bathing or urinating and defecating outside.

No ruling was made about the refugees inside the church, which falls outside the jurisdiction of the City of Cape Town.

For seven days from the granting of the order, the City has been tasked with providing a suitable venue where the Department of Home Affairs must do status determination and verification. Home Affairs must deploy officials to conduct the process.

The City must provide transport for the refugees.

Copies of the judgment must also be made available to the refugees in English as well as Lingala and Swahili (languages spoken by the majority of the protesters).

No costs were brought against the group, which was represented in court by Jean-Pierre Balous.

The refugees, who have been living at the church for close to four months, were hauled to court in 2019 after the City applied for an urgent interdict against the group, prohibiting them from conducting a sit-in protest, damaging property and contravening the city’s by-laws.

The Reverend Alan Storey had opened the doors of the church after the group was forcibly removed from outside the Cape Town UNHCR offices in Waldorf Arcade, where they had been demanding to be resettled to a third country. 

Traders and businesses in Greenmarket Square have complained that the sit-in has disrupted business with many losing large chunks of income daily. Some have been forced to close shop. DM