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Tensions high after refugees turn on leader at CT church

JP Balous barricaded himself inside the church while screaming foreigners instructed police to go inside.

Police attend to a dispute involving refugees and foreign nationals at the Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square in Cape Town on 29 December 2019. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Refugees living in the Methodist Church in the CBD turned on one of the leaders following a dispute about a church service.

Police were called out to manage the situation on Sunday night after foreign nationals demanded that JP Balous leave the church.

They’ve been at the church since the end of October fearing xenophobic tensions.

Angry foreign nationals stood outside the church accusing Balous of threatening and assaulting them.

Balous barricaded himself inside the church while screaming foreigners instructed police to go inside.

Refugee leader Papy Sukami said that the dispute started yesterday morning when Balous told foreigners that there would be no church service.

Sukami said that this was an abuse of power.

Balous was suspended from his leadership role and a fight broke out during which some of Balous’s supporters brandished machetes.

"We have bad leadership. No leader can fight. At that time already, he brought pangas and he gave it to his Burundian bodyguards and they came to fight us in the church. We went to the police because we are not gangsters, we are not fighters, just refugees."

Other refugees told Eyewitness News this was not the first time that tempers had frayed, claiming Balous had assaulted them.

"We called the police to help us because we don't want to fight."

Sakumi said that they would be heading to the police station do find out why Balous was not arrested.