A South African Anglican archbishop was among the injured on Friday when violent scuffles broke out at a Cape Town church where hundreds of foreign nationals have been sheltered, clerical and human rights officials said.
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, with a group of clergymen and human rights officials who were trying to address the foreigners, many claiming to be asylum-seekers and demanding relocation from South Africa.
More than 200 have occupied Greenmarket Square Methodist church in Cape Town since police forcefully removed them two weeks ago from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices where they staged a sit-in.
Pastor Alan Storey said he had asked the people to start vacating the church because “it is completely overcrowded, it’s not a safe environment. If there was a fire we would be left with people dead.”
But the situation deteriorated when Storey handed the microphone to a Congolese clergyman, whose identity was not immediately known, but who was part of a delegation due to address the crowd.
He was met by howling before a woman climbed onto the stage and forcibly grabbed the microphone out of his hand before a mob started slapping and punching him.
“One of the leaders went to him and knocked him down and started fighting with him and then the others came for us,” South Africa Human Rights Commission’s senior official Chris Nissen told AFP.
“To attack the archbishop is not only criminal, it’s not only disrespectful but it’s also an ungratefulness,” said Nissen, who was also injured during the skirmishes.
Storey described it as “pandemonium”. “The whole delegation was attacked,” he said.
Mainly from other African nations, the foreigners say they are fed up with being ill-treated and discriminated against and want to be relocated to another country.
South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to government statistics. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pretoria boasts some of the world’s most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status within the country itself and to work during the process.
As the continent’s most industrialised economy, South Africa is also a magnet for migrants seeking better job prospects.
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