Court bid to remove refugees from upmarket Pretoria suburbs deadlocked

Refugees camped outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offices in Pretoria.  (Alex Mitchley, News24)
Refugees camped outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offices in Pretoria. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

An urgent court application to remove refugees, who are staging a protest in Pretoria, has deadlocked after the parties involved failed to reach an agreement on how to proceed. 

On Wednesday, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria heard that the parties cited in an application by the Waterkloof Homeowners' Association and Brooklyn and Eastern Areas Citizens' Association do not agree with their draft order.

The home associations representing residents in the two upmarket suburbs have approached the court seeking to prohibit the refugees from staging a sit-in.

The migrants have been camping outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for just under a month.

The residents have asked the court to compel law enforcement agencies to deal with the refugees for contravening municipal by-laws and that the Department of Home Affairs should identify the refugees and their status in the country. 

Advocate Seth Nthai SC, for the minister of home affairs who was cited as a respondent, told the court the department had an issue with the draft order as it could not be practically enforced, adding it did not oppose the application but asked the court to make submissions. 

Nthai said the department had found it difficult to ascertain the identities of the refugees, as per the draft order. 

Judge Natvarlal Ranchod questioned why it found this directive difficult when it fell within its mandate. 

Nthai told the court the department wanted to modify the draft order to allow it to be practically enforceable. 

The minister of police, who initially filed a notice that it would abide by the court's decision, made a U-turn on Wednesday, telling the court it now wanted to oppose the application.

READ: City of Tshwane wants government to assist with refugees camped outside UN offices

Judge Ranchod took exception to this, saying the case had already been heard.

Advocate Tebogo Ramahlaha, acting for the minister of police, explained that the draft order, in its current form, sought to impose orders that the police have no authority to carry out. 

Ramahlaha added the papers also cited the minister of police who cannot order the police to carry out operations, saying the national police commissioner or the Gauteng commissioner should have been cited.

The City of Tshwane told the court it could not come to an agreement in terms of the draft order and submitted its own draft order for the court's consideration. 

Advocate Thys Strydom, representing the homeowners associations, told the court they would attempt to iron out issues with home affairs and the police, but that there was a stalemate with the City.

The case was postponed to Thursday.

News24 previously reported that the refugees had already pre-empted the outcome of the application, saying they would not leave willingly. 

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) national Aline Bukuru, who has been a refugee in South Africa for the past 12 years, said they were prepared for the worst possible order by the court.

"We know the court is not here to protect refugees, so we are ready for anything. This happened in Cape Town already," Bukuru said, referring to refugees who were removed from the UNHCR's offices in Cape Town following  a court order.

He said if the order was granted, prohibiting them from staging a sit-in, the police would have to forcibly remove them, as they had nowhere else to go.

"There is no going back now. Enough is enough."

Another DRC national, Alex Mongo who has been in South Africa since 2008, agreed with Bukuru.

"We don't have homes, we have nowhere to go. Let them bring the coffins, we are used to violence, we are used to attacks," he said.

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