The City of Cape Town will be hosting a free concert on Greenmarket Square on Thursday to revitalise the area after refugees, who had been living there for months, were removed.
The free concert will feature Jonathan Rubain, Don Vino, Candice Thornton and The Kiffness featuring Matthew Gold, plus a mass salsa class on the square.
On Sunday, law enforcement officers removed several hundred people, including children, from tents and awnings which they had erected around the Central Methodist Mission last October.
The church took them in after they were removed from a building that houses the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) offices. They had hoped to be relocated to another country, citing fears of xenophobia.
The refugees were removed on Sunday, in terms of a court order issued on February 17, in a by-law enforcement swoop that focused on infractions such as sleeping, washing clothes, and doing ablutions in public.
NGOs and civil society organisations that tried to help the group were chased away as they held out for relocation to another country.
The City had made it clear the refugees would not be given alternate accommodation given the existing high demand for housing, and the UNHCR reiterated it would not be relocating them.
The traders on the square also complained their business had suffered while the refugees were camping there. Some had allegedly threatened customers and shopkeepers. Many of the traders were refugees and asylum seekers themselves, according to court papers.
The area was hosed down and cleaned on Sunday, and it was business as usual by Monday.
“The City has taken note of concerns raised by businesses in and around Greenmarket Square about a dip in their turnover.
“The square is one of the oldest venues in the country and is a significant tourism hub that also benefits local arts and craft traders.
“It is the City’s responsibility to ensure that we create an environment that enables business and events in Cape Town to grow, which means job opportunities for residents,” said the mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith.
A group of refugees is still living in the church and may not be removed as the City does not have jurisdiction there.
Those who were removed relocated to St Mary’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt opposite parliament on Sunday afternoon, but were swiftly removed by law enforcement officers after the church laid a charge of trespassing.
They then moved from a park near the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on Monday and slept near Cape Town Central police station.
On Tuesday, the refugees were found sitting on a pavement around the corner from the police station, saying if they were arrested for any by-law infringements at least they would get food and a shower.
Richard Bosman, the City’s executive director for safety and security, said it would continue to enforce the court order.
“The court order stated clearly that the refugees, who have been moved from Greenmarket Square, are not allowed to contravene the City’s by-laws anywhere else in the city.
“Any such conduct would be in contempt of court. Neither the City nor any other agency has to provide alternative accommodation to the group.”
Meanwhile, the chairperson of parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Bongani Bongo, called for a speedy resolution.
“It is untenable that the situation continues to persist despite numerous attempted interventions that have not yielded desirable results. We would like to urge refugees to comply with the laws of the country and by-laws of the City of Cape Town.”
Bongo called for the full implementation of the City’s by-laws, and recently attained court order, to ensure that the matter was brought to an end.
He said it was “unfortunate that the refugees have persisted to undermine the laws of this country as a way of forcing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to act in a way that is only satisfactory to them, despite information that the UNHCR is unable to assist”.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the committee he had held numerous interactions with the countries the refugees said they were willing to relocate to, but they were unwilling to assist.
“The committee calls on the refugees to consider reintegrating into the communities they came from before the start of the protest to enable children to go back to school.”
Motsoaledi advised individuals to apply through the UNHCR process for further assistance.