Defend Truth


Action against Cape Town refugees is not xenophobia — it is applying the law equally to all

Bonginkosi Madikizela is Western Cape DA leader and WC Minister of Transport and Public Works.

The recent occupation by a group of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants of Cape Town’s Central Methodist Mission Church was deemed by the Cape High Court to be an attempt to set up a ‘self-governing territory’. Regardless of our sentiments and sympathies, the laws of South Africa must apply to all — citizens and foreigners.

I would very much like to set the record straight about the saga surrounding the group of foreign nationals who elected to embark on a deliberate course of lawlessness, mayhem and chaos in the heart of the City of Cape Town — over many months — in the hope that this would cause some organ of state to pay for their relocation out of South Africa, to a country of their choice — for example, Canada.

In early October 2019, about 300 foreign nationals, who included asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, staged a sit-in at the Waldorf Arcade Building, demanding that the South African government transport them to the countries of their choice, preferably, according to them, Canada and the US. The people forming this group were mainly from Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Somalia and Bangladesh.

On 16 October 2019, the Western Cape High Court ordered these people to vacate the buildings in the city centre where they had taken up occupation. This order was executed on 30 October 2019. During that removal process, Rev Alan Storey from the Greenmarket Square Central Methodist Mission Church intervened and offered accommodation to them in the church premises which border the square. At that time the number of people was estimated at 700, but was fluctuating.

After several weeks of engagements that followed, it became clear in November 2019 that they were refusing to vacate the church on a voluntary basis and were insisting on being relocated out of the country. Eventually, those negotiations became violent and some occupants assaulted church leadership and Western Cape Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Nissen, who had been trying to find a solution for them, and who walked away from this matter as a result of that incident and of threats that he received thereafter.

The grouping started to fragment too, with frequent fistfights and public brawls, and many of them began to occupy public places in the city centre adjacent or near to, but outside the church. In so doing they encroached on the road and Greenmarket Square, and erected makeshift structures and were cooking, defecating and causing disorder, all of which are in breach of the city’s bylaw for public spaces.

Complaints were sent to the mayor and the premier about the situation and businesses were severely affected. Some were even forced to shut. Public hygiene challenges arose, public access was negatively affected and several incidents of public violence occurred. The City was forced to bring an application for a declaration as to its right to enforcement of its bylaw on 13 December. The matter was postponed to 28 January 2020, and on 17 February the city was granted permission by the court to enforce its bylaws and to act against persons found to be in breach thereof after a period of seven days had elapsed.

The court judgment is critical of the actions of this group. The court found that they had attempted to create a “self-governing territory within the City of Cape Town” and had shown no respect for law and order or the South African authorities. The city was asked to provide a venue and transport — for a period of seven days — during which their details and information could be verified at an offsite venue. Once this process was completed, the City would be free to enforce its by-law, and if the refugees refused to comply with the by-law or the order, they would be in contempt and in breach of the by-law. They could then be arrested.

Immediately after that judgment, the foreign nationals very publicly insulted the court and the judgment that had been handed down. There was a slight delay as the court order specified it had to be translated and the sheriff had to comply with the terms of the translation in order to serve it.

When the translated court order was served and the City had arranged for transport to Salt River, all the affected foreign nationals were processed as required and handed asylum-seeker forms to complete where applicable, in compliance with the court judgment. They were also assessed by social workers deployed by the provincial Department of Social Development to determine whether any children needed to be taken into the child protection system. Some tore up the papers handed to them and insulted our officials or refused point-blank to fill in those forms, choosing rather to return to Greenmarket Square without completing the verification process.

On Sunday 1 March the City of Cape Town implemented the court judgment with the assistance of law enforcement officials. In doing so the City removed from the streets and public places any items belonging to the foreign nationals. The enforcement of the order was done in a well-organised and dignified manner and despite severe provocation from the affected foreign nationals, no member of the City law enforcement offices or of the SAPS retaliated. After being removed from this site, some of the foreign nationals tried to invade St Mary’s Cathedral in the CBD, but the church immediately laid a charge of trespassing against those involved and they were removed by the police shortly afterwards.

When that attempt at occupation of another church proved unsuccessful, the foreign nationals invaded an open space next to District Six. The police again arrived and removed them from that land, whereafter they moved to the SAPS Central Police Station in Barrack Street.

The City announced on 5 March that it was considering approaching the high court again on an urgent basis for further relief as provided for in the original order. This includes a specific provision which could result in arrests being made by SAPS.

After the blatant disregard of our laws and thuggish behaviour that we have witnessed in this matter, some people still appear to be sympathetic to their lawlessness simply on the basis that they are foreign nationals to whom different rules apply. It must be made categorically clear that the ambassadors and consuls general of the countries of origin do not support the recent behaviour of these people, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission has made it clear that their demands to be relocated to Canada or elsewhere are simply ludicrous.

Many of them come from communities in Cape Town and have volunteered to give up their accommodation and jobs in the belief that they would eventually be delivered to another country. This is simply not going to happen and the door to reintegration into the communities they came from has remained open.

There are some in my own country who are sympathetic to this kind of behaviour and who are even falling for the xenophobia propaganda that repeats the lie that they will be hurt simply because they are not South African. That is just not true. They have adopted a state of lawlessness over many months with the one intention of forcing someone to pay for them to leave our country.

When I travel to any country, I’m expected to follow the rules of that particular country and I do so. I am not sure why anyone would believe that people in our country have any entitlement to act outside of our laws. No such right exists and we must ensure that if they break our laws, they are dealt with the way we would expect any other resident to be dealt with. DM


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