Refugees order Gift of the Givers out of Methodist Church in Cape Town

Bags piled up at the door to the Cape Town Central Methodist Church where foreign nationals are taking refuge. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Bags piled up at the door to the Cape Town Central Methodist Church where foreign nationals are taking refuge. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Gift of the Givers has been ordered to stop taking food and giving medical help to the hundreds of foreign nationals taking shelter at Cape Town's Central Methodist Church because the group's leadership is upset with the charity.  

"We have been asked not to be there," Gift of the Givers director Badr Kazi confirmed to News24 on Wednesday.

"We were asked to leave." 

READ | Court bid to remove refugees from upmarket Pretoria suburbs deadlocked

Kazi said it was the first time something like this had happened to the charity known for drilling boreholes in drought-stricken towns across South Africa, bringing clothes and food to people whose homes were destroyed by fires, and its relief work as far afield as Syria. 

This meant it was unable to distribute the six enormous pots of food that had been prepared for distribution on Wednesday.

The doctors, who had closed their practices to do health checks, would also not be allowed into the church either. 


A makeshift shelter outside the church used for protection from the rain (Jenni Evans, News24)

Earlier, Jean-Pierre Bassou, a spokesperson for the group of foreign nationals taking shelter at the church, told News24 that Gift of the Givers' Ali Sablay said on radio that their bid to be evacuated to a foreign country was "unrealistic". 

Sablay told News24 he did not say that at all, and he had not been on the radio to discuss the situation either.

He said had been overseeing a team distributing meals, nappies, water, sanitary towels, and lucky packets for the children and the team had stayed until late every night with a large lorry full of items to help out. Kazi said it was him who had been on the radio, adding he hoped the impasse would be resolved soon so that they could continue with their relief work.


He said the food did not go to waste because it was distributed to victims of fires this week, and to needy people in Bonteheuwel. However, he hoped that negotiations would see their assistance being resumed. 

Last Wednesday, hundreds of people holding a sit-in at the Waldorf Arcade between St George's Mall and Burg Street near the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' offices were forcibly removed in terms of a court order obtained by the building operators, and enforced by the police and Cape Town's law enforcement unit.

Before their removal, Bassou said, they wanted the refugee agency to relocate them to a country other than their country of origin. They said they did not feel safe in South Africa anymore, were afraid of xenophobic attacks, and hoped there would be a third country that would be generous enough to host them. 

After the police action, which saw at least 100 people being arrested, and some children kept in a holding cell, they were eventually released.

The police have not replied to questions over the situation since then.

When the situation calmed down, the foreign nationals picked up their belongings and bedded down on every available space in the church that is led by Reverend Alan Storey.

By Wednesday, the group had arranged a security detail among themselves, and people coming in were being scanned, and their shopping bags searched.

Children who wanted to leave were told to stay inside "because it is cold".

Bassou and the committee had set up an upstairs office in the church.

He said the security arrangements came about because people had started threatening them, and because a man had shown them a gun. 

He added they had not heard anything from the refugee agency or the home affairs department, but were watching the outcome of a court case in Pretoria related to a similar sit-in there.

And if all failed, Bassou added, they would walk to another country because they felt South Africa was no longer safe for them.

"We will walk go on our feet to Botswana or Namibia," he said. 

The refugee agency said few people met the criteria of being taken to another country, but it was working to resolve the situation. 

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