Refugees physically attack archbishop and Chris Nissen in Methodist church

Leadership justifies violence

Photo of Central Methodist Mission

A few hundred refugees have been occupying the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square. They are demanding to be resettled to a third country, i.e. not South Africa nor the countries they come from. Photo: Karabo Mafolo

By Karabo Mafolo and Madison Yauger

15 November 2019

On Friday morning, refugees staying in the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town physically attacked a delegation consisting of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen, a pastor and other members of civil society organisations.

Reverend Alan Storey from the Methodist Church says that he spoke to the people and told them they needed to vacate the church. “Chris Nissen (from the South African Human Rights Commission) explained which options are viable and which options weren’t viable.”

Storey says that when another man, name unknown, tried to speak, the refugees pushed forward and physically attacked the delegation. “We managed to get people to calm down. The leadership also called for calm and asked people to protect the delegation. But three people were seriously injured,” said Storey.

A widely circulated video backs up Storey’s version of events.

Reverend Annie Kirke, among those attacked, declined to comment.

Once there was calm, the delegation was able to leave the church.

One leader of the protest, Sylvie Nahimana, initially denied any violence, telling GroundUp: “We were told to leave the church. There was no violence.”

But after showing her the video, she said: “Every time we have meetings we always say we don’t want to speak to Adonis or Scalabrini, so it was the biggest mistake to come into this place and that’s why they got the beating of their life.”

“The man [who was assaulted] is coming from Scalabrini. Those are the businessmen always eating money in the name of helping refugees,” she said. “So we don’t want to see people like that in this place. You didn’t see the leaders beating them; it was the people because they know what kind of people they are. That’s why they beat them up.”

In fact, the Scalabrini Centre is a non-profit organisation that assists refugees. Nor were Scalabrini or Adonis part of the delegation that visited the mission on Friday.

Also, another source told GroundUp that the refugee leadership instigated the attack.

Amy Kaye who runs a crowdfunding campaign for the refugees said that the violence broke out because “they brought in people from organisations that the refugees expressly said that they did not want to work with”.

Meanwhile on Thursday, protestors living outside of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria entered the offices through an open gate and took up shelter there.

A UNHCR statement read: “Some 150 foreign nationals, involved in a protest since 8 October outside UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s office in Pretoria, South Africa, have forced their way into the compound this morning. The group may include refugees and asylum-seekers. The majority of our staff were safely evacuated out of the building.”

“UNHCR is engaged in a dialogue with the protestors, urging them to avoid any act of violence, vacate the premises and contribute to finding viable solutions. The latest development follows a Pretoria High Court order issued Wednesday 13 November, giving three days to foreign protestors to vacate all occupied public areas in the Waterkloof part of the city, where the UNHCR has its offices.”

News24 reported on Friday morning that police have begun removing the Pretoria demonstrators.

Mafolo is a Daily Maverick intern seconded to GroundUp.