UniFam, a non-profit organisation working to improve the lives and living conditions of refugee families in the Western Cape of South Africa, has condemned the recent violent attack by protesting foreign nationals on speakers at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town on 15 November. The organisation is calling for the arrest of those responsible for the attack and has in the strongest terms condemned all forms of violent and criminal activity engaged in by some members of the protest group. The organisation has called for all foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum seekers, to respect the laws of South Africa and asserted that violence has no place in the country.
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“We condemn the attack and criminal behaviour we saw on 15 November in the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town,” said Patrick Matenga of UniFam.
“The children and women are already traumatised from the situation…my worry is how people and protest leaders say they’re helping the people but still place them in violence? Violence has no place here in South Africa. We condemn the violence in the strongest way.”
In a meeting held at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town on 15 November, angry foreign nationals turned on religious leaders and speakers.
Reverend Alan Storey, Archbishop Thabo Magkoba and officials from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) had attempted to explain some solutions to the protesters who are demanding that they be resettled in other countries. The group of foreign protesters has been living inside the church for the past few weeks after being forcibly removed from the UNHCR offices in Cape Town where they had staged a protracted sit-in protest.
The Archbishop and SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen were violently attacked, along with others, while trying to broker an understanding.
According to previous reports by VOC, Nissen said Reverend Storey made an impassioned appeal to the foreign nationals to leave the church as the living conditions had become unsustainable.
Matenga explained that he suspects protest leaders in the group are manipulating others by misrepresenting facts and “spinning the message of truth,” fueling everyone’s anger and entitlement. Matenga says that the protest leaders are pursuing their own agendas.
He also says the meeting which unfortunately ended violently was intended to be a platform to provide feedback on a previous meeting which took place between protest leaders and other relevant stakeholders, so that everyone could understand the situation and return to their communities.
“The leaders of the protesters are still telling people that they are going to be resettled to Canada and Australia which is not true…it’s a strategy they are using to keep people around because they believe that if people are around there, their agenda will move forward,” he said.
“We continue to call on refugees and asylum seekers to respect the laws of the country. There is no one above the law, no matter whether you are a refugee or an asylum seeker. You don’t have the right to assault people or to violate the law of the country. Everyone has to respect the law and if they don’t respect the law of the country, they must be dealt with accordingly.
Assault on anyone is a serious crime here and we condemn it. We call on all those people behind the attacks to come to book so the law can work accordingly.”
Matenga indicated that UniFam is going to work with SAPS as well as other law enforcement agencies in this regard because they feel the recent attack undermines efforts at constructive dialogue as well as the rights and values of freedom and freedom of expression.