Refugee leader Jean-Pierre Balous risks deportation if convicted after brawl with police in court

Jean-Pierre Balous and his supporters allegedly attacked police officers as he resisted arrest at the Cape Town magistrate's court on Friday. Balous has been charged with numerous serious crimes.
Jean-Pierre Balous and his supporters allegedly attacked police officers as he resisted arrest at the Cape Town magistrate's court on Friday. Balous has been charged with numerous serious crimes.
Image: Dan Meyer

Self-styled refugee leader Jean-Pierre Balous may have unwittingly exposed himself to the possibility of being deported after he allegedly attacked police and court officials.

Pandemonium broke out in the Cape Town magistrate's court on Friday when a detective tried to execute a warrant of arrest for Balous.

Balous, from the Congo, and his supporters were captured on video engaged in scuffles with police, and chairs were hurled inside court.

Supporters stormed out of court with Balous, and with the detective’s handcuffs.

Public order police, assisted by Cape Town metro police, eventually apprehended Balous, 39, another Congolese national, Ombemi Awuri Issa, 27, and a Burundian, Issa Lion, 50. They appeared in court on Monday on a slew of charges.

Balous, who elected to represent himself, is facing intimidation, assault, escaping from custody and resisting arrest charges. Issa and Lion face similar charges plus an additional one for transgressing the Immigration Act. Both are represented by Legal Aid.

Refugee leader Jean-Pierre Balous' supporters demonstrated outside court on Monday demanding his release.
Refugee leader Jean-Pierre Balous' supporters demonstrated outside court on Monday demanding his release.
Image: Esa Alexander

The matter was postponed to March 16 for bail information and for Balous’ co-accused to consult their lawyer.

Balous’s supporters were not allowed inside court but were armed with placards outside. A heavy police contingent kept a watchful eye.

On Friday, Balous appeared for eight cases of assault, five of which were assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm. The matter was postponed to March 19.

He was arrested on New Year’s Day following clashes with a rival refugee group at the Methodist Church in the Cape Town CBD, where the crowd sought refuge after being evicted from outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices last year.

They spent days outside the offices demanding to be moved to a third country, claiming to be unsafe in South Africa. Canada was one of the countries to which they wanted to relocate .

TimesLIVE saw the warrant of arrest, authorised on January 28, that was executed on Friday. Balous was being sought for intimidation.

A man who will remain anonymous because he fears for his safety has spoken about the inner workings of the refugee group who were removed from outside the Central Methodist Church in the Cape Town CBD on March 1 2020. The hundreds of refugees are asking to be relocated to another country because they claim they fear xenophobia in SA. However, one refugee has come forward to deny their claims and speak out against "chance takers" within the group.

SA Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen told TimesLIVE he had opened an intimidation case against Balous after he had been threatened with death.

“He turned towards me and he shouted at me: ‘I am going to kill you’. Then I went to open  a case,” said Nissen.

Nissen said police had been looking for Balous for “the past few weeks”. He said it was not the first time Balous had attacked him.

“The first time when we were attacked, we decided we wanted to keep the lines of communication open. However, after that the commission decided we should not deal with the leaders. We would still continue to be of service, but we would not engage the leadership,” Nissen said.

He said other refugees had approached the commission and asked to be helped to return to the communities from which they had come.

“It is very sad. People are saying 'we were misled and we have lost everything'. Now people are coming to us asking us to help them go back to the communities. We are going to do the best we can to speak to whoever we need to, to ensure safe reintegration into the communities.”

Nissen said he intended pursuing the intimidation case. He said he was not surprised by the events in court on Friday.

“I wasn’t surprised but I must condemn it in the strongest terms,” he said. “Some of those around JP Balous have displayed very aggressive behaviour. Some of the women also displayed very aggressive behaviour.

"The fact of the matter is that you can’t be above the law. Attacking court officials and attacking police in court, that is not on. Nowhere must it be allowed. I spoke to the police and they said some officers were assaulted.”

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi condemned the attack on police and court officials. He said the refugees had exposed themselves to deportation if convicted of the crimes.

“It is completely unacceptable,” said Motsoaledi. “It’s criminal behaviour which nobody should ever tolerate. I am happy that after the behaviour on Friday, he [Balous] has been rearrested. Once a foreign national gets sentenced in South African for whatever crime, after serving the sentence the correctional services department gives me a list of those who are released and then we deport them immediately.”

The parliamentary committee on home affairs has summoned stakeholders in the saga.

“I think, if I am not mistaken, I am going to be the main presenter because they called the UNHCR, the South African Human rights Commission, the refugee appeals committees and they have called the city of Cape Town,” said Motsoaledi. 

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