WINDHOEK - More than 200 refugees who have been living in South Africa, Cape Town’s Central Methodist Mission – are said to have started a long-walk to the Namibian Ariamsvlei border on Friday. The refugees, according to media reports are fleeing the country over recent xenophobic attacks.
According to the South African daily newspaper, Times Live, the group that includes parents and school going children on Friday embarked on the journey, on foot, to the Namibian border. The move was also confirmed by the Commissioner of Refugees, Likius Valombola yesterday, who said the home affairs ministry was aware of the move.
“Yes we are aware of this move, so far since August, we have received over 200 refugees from South Africa. We are on it and soon we will be meeting our counterpart to better understand the situation there,” Valombola said when contacted for comment. He added that most of these refugees are mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
According the newspaper’s weekend report, community leader for the displaced people, Jean-Pierre Balous, said on Friday they met with a group of leaders at St George’s Cathedral, but it turned ugly when they left the venue and returned to the Central Methodist Mission.
He claims that a Congolese pastor joined the delegation and addressed the crowd who took issue with this because the man was not well respected in their community.
“When that Congolese guy stood there, people knew him very well, and they were not happy,” said Balous. In the ensuing scuffles, bottles were thrown at the delegation as the group of disgruntled refugees surged towards the group of men addressing them.
SAHRC’s Chris Nissen and Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba sustained blows to the head when plastic bottles were flung from the crowd.
Rev Alan Storey, of the Central Methodist Mission, reiterated his plea that people leave the church and find a more suitable place of safety - which the refugees believe lies beyond the borders of a “xenophobic” South Africa.
Balous said he saw no reason why local officials won’t open the border gates for them when they get there to allow them free passage to Namibia.
The Namibian consul-general in Cape Town, Nicklaas Kandjii, heard of these bold plans to cross the border via TV news reports. “Next week we will contact our ministry in Namibia and discuss this issue and the way forward,” he said.
Questioned about the safety of the group and the many children who would be travelling with them, Balous said it was not an issue for them.
“We are going to walk. If it is going to take a month of us walking, so let it be,” he said. By late on Saturday, the group appeared to be thinning out as some families had already left the Central Methodist Church either on foot or by car. - Additional Reporting by Times Live