The split between two groups of refugees and asylum seekers living in and around the Central Methodist Mission church on Greenmarket Square was clear to see when the leader of one faction appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
On New Year’s Day, Jean-Pierre Balous, 39, was arrested on eight charges of assault, including five of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm.
His arrest follows simmering tension among refugees who appeared to have split into two camps since staying at the church for the past two months.
They have been living there since October after they were forcibly removed from a sit-in protest outside United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the city centre.
They want the UNHCR to assist them to leave South Africa amid rising fears of attacks aimed at foreign nationals.
On Friday, the court heard that Balous is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has an alternative address in Parow Valley in the northern suburbs and is a father of three.
Balous stood in the dock, clutching a roll of toilet paper.
The State asked for a postponement of the bail proceedings to confirm his details. The request was granted and the case was postponed for a week. Balous will remain in custody.
Outside the court, a group of refugees appeared delighted at the news, showing V-signs and singing and dancing in front of banners asking that Balous be refused bail.
A few metres to the other side of the court’s entrance, a group of mostly women refugees and asylum seekers were sitting quietly, with posters hailing Balous a hero.
Some police officers kept an eye on proceedings. It didn’t appear as if the two groups confronted each other.
On Monday, police had to release a stun grenade to stop heated arguments in front of the church on Greenmarket Square, where self-appointed guards were controlling access, News24 reported.
At the time, one of the leaders, Papy Sukami, told News24 that he and Balous, with whom he had previously led the group of several hundred people taking refuge, had had a fallout.
He said Balous was chasing away people who were trying to help them, including humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers.
The more than 600 foreign nationals sought refuge in the church after police forcefully dispersed a sit-in protest near the offices of the UNHCR in October.
Balous is the group’s spokesperson in their court case with the City of Cape Town.
Last month, the City asked the Western Cape High Court for an order prohibiting the sit-in and the flouting of health and safety by-laws, alleging that the group was affecting business in the area. During these proceedings, Balous disputed that they have other accommodation.
This matter was postponed to January 22, for Balous to file papers in response to the claims that they had harassed the public.