Blocking Amazon’s headquarters in Cape Town will cost South Africa dearly

If the groups objecting to the redevelopment of the River Club site in Cape Town get their way, it will come at a severe cost, executive mayor Dan Plato has warned.

Speaking to Carte Blanche, Plato said that objectors to the development where Amazon hopes to build its African headquarters should be aware of the consequences if they get their way.

“They might want to rejoice, but immediately over 5,000 job opportunities will be lost,” Plato stated.

Considering all the spin-offs expected from the site’s redevelopment, over 15,000 jobs will be lost.

This is aside from the money expected to flow into the City’s coffers and those of the provincial and national government.

Amazon will be the anchor tenant of the R4.5 billion mixed-use development by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust that will include restaurants, conferencing facilities, a school, and an events space.

The development will comprise 150,000 square metres of mixed-use space — 59,600 square metres for offices, 20,700 square metres for retail, an 8,200 square metre hotel, and a 4,100 square metre gym.

A legal challenge was mounted against the River Club development soon after the City of Cape Town approved it earlier this year.

It faces opposition from a coalition of environmental and heritage protection organisations, and First Nations groups representing the interests of certain Khoi and San people.

Tauriq Jenkins, Supreme High Commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council

Tauriq Jenkins, the Supreme High Commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, told Carte Blanche that Amazon and the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust are commodifying their sacred heritage.

In addition to his position on the traditional council, Jenkins also served as the chair of the Observatory Civic Association until 2019. The Association is also opposed to the development.

“The proposal entails 150,000 square metres of concrete bulk on a sacred floodplain,” Jenkins said.

“Elements of this include redirection of the sacred river, and the desecration of this floodplain is of painful concern to us.”

Jenkins said that his understanding is that most of the San and Khoi groups are vehemently against the development.

“This is about selling our most sacred heritage to the world’s richest man and the world’s biggest company,” said Jenkins.

“For the San and Khoi groups who are opposed to the development, the message is clear — our heritage is not for sale.”

Chief Zenzile Khoisan, First Nations Collective

However, the First Nations Collective led by Chief Zenzile Khoisan has dismissed the objections raised by Jenkins and other marginalised groups.

According to Khoisan, the Collective includes leaders and structures who have been part of “the Khoi and San resurgence”.

He said that these people had fought the struggle against the South African government for recognition, for restitution of their lost lands, and for their restoration as a people who have been stripped of all their cultural belongings.

Khoisan and a coalition of First Nations leaders signed a social compact with the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust following talks over the development.

The trust said that the agreement would see the heritage, history, and culture of the First Nations group preserved on-site through various features.

These include creating an indigenous garden, a heritage eco-trail, a garden amphitheatre, and other symbols central to the First Nations narrative.

“This is the first developer in South Africa’s history to honour indigenous groups,” stated Khoisan.

“It’s a massive triumph because the entire 6km of this site is going to be landmarked with the searing narrative that represents our dispossession, our genocide,” he said.

“All of the crimes that have been committed are going to be signposted across this entire development.”

An impression of the proposed River Club development contained in the Basic Assessment Report, a public document produced by SRK Consulting

Carte Blanche reported that the ecological assessments had categorised the River Club lands and surrounding ecosystem as a biodiversity bomb.

Stephen Townsend, the heritage consultant who conducted a heritage impact assessment for the River Club development in 2019, said that the development represents a unique opportunity to rehabilitate the land.

He also praised the compact that the developers and the First Nations groups were able to negotiate.

Townsend said that the Liesbeek River is a singular important bit of the city.

However, the river systems have disintegrated, and the land itself has become an illegal dumping ground in recent years.

As a result, the River Club site and adjacent sites are now ecologically and environmentally degraded.

Unless the land is properly rehabilitated, indigenous flora and fauna are at risk — something the developed has vowed to do.

Townsend said that the development would help restore the Liesbeek River to wholeness, allow it to recover its ecological function, and more than improve its amenity value and recover its historical visibility.

The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust declined an on-camera interview with Carte Blanche, but said in a statement that no tangible heritage has been found at the site.

Now read: Jobs bloodbath in South Africa

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Blocking Amazon’s headquarters in Cape Town will cost South Africa dearly