A Parow man, leading several hundred refugees who have occupied a city church, faces assault and robbery charges and is due to appear in court on 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 January 1. He faces eight charges of assault, including robbery, assault and five for assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, according to Cape Town police spokesperson Captain Ezra October.
Captain October said the suspect had an outstanding case of robbery opened against him, however, Northern News could not confirm by the time this edition went to print if he was arrested due to that charge.
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 Northern News.
Late last year, the City of Cape Town had also applied in the Western Cape High Court for an urgent interdict to evacuate the refugees, citing an eviction order against the refugees for by-law violations, but the court told it to find an alternative solution.
The City did not respond to Northern News with regards to the court order, however, they said the matter will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday January 28.
It was reported that 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. He will appear again on Friday January 10.
Three people, who claimed to have been among those injured in the fighting outside the church on Sunday December 29, however, told the Northern News they did not believe Mr Balous was to blame.
They claimed they had been attacked because they had asked Mr Sumaki for proof that Mr Balous was taking bribes.
“He said JP was the reason we do not get help, but I asked for proof so we know what to do next,” said Iyke Chibuzor.
He claimed Mr Sumaki’s supporters had then started attacking him and at least six others outside the church with a panga.
Mr Chibuzor said he had been rushed to hospital with head injuries after being attacked with a panga and his phone had also been destroyed in the attack.
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 representative from the Pretoria group of refugees, who came to assist with the way forward, told the Northern News the media and organisations who claim to help are painting a bad picture of the refugees.
“The weapons weren’t inside the church – they came from outside.”
She accused the City of doing nothing to help them find alternative accommodation.
Ms Bakuru said some of the refugees believed it was Mr Sukami who had been lying to them and not Mr Balous.
She 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 for a way forward, 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 Northern News at the time of going to print.
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