Patrimonial dispute engulfs site chosen for Amazon’s new African headquarters

For the Khoi and San – the original inhabitants of South Africa – a verdant patch of land in Cape Town embodies victory and tragedy.

The two communities drove Portuguese cattle raiders there in 1510. But, a century and a half later, it was there that the Dutch settlers launched a campaign of land dispossession.

Today, it is again the scene of another conflict, this time over a development whose construction is due to start this month and which will eventually house a new African headquarters of 70,000 square meters for the American retail giant Amazon. (AMZN.O)

“This is where the land was first stolen,” said Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, a traditional Khoi group opposed to the project. “We want a World Heritage Site. We don’t want 150,000 tonnes of concrete.”

The 15-hectare waterfront area previously housed a golf driving range and a popular bar – a small blue plaque is the only indication of its historical significance.

It is now earmarked for a R4 billion ($ 284 million) mixed-use development comprising a hotel, retail offices and residential units.

Amazon, which already employs thousands of people in Cape Town in a global call center and data hubs, is named as its main tenant, with no other big names yet to be disclosed by bosses or developers from the city.

While some groups have welcomed the prospect of new jobs, the whole project, not Amazon’s specific plans, has faced backlash from other community leaders as well as environmentalists and activists. . They have organized marches on the site and are now threatening to take the case to court.

According to the Observatory Civic Association, which represents a neighboring residential community, nearly 50,000 objections to the development have so far been filed with municipal and provincial authorities.

They want development to be stopped and the area declared a provincial or national heritage site; environmentalists say it’s important to preserve because it’s an environmentally sensitive area at the confluence of two rivers.

Amazon in South Africa and the United States declined to comment on the dispute and referred the queries to the developer, South African Zenprop. She in turn directed requests to Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLTP), the structure put in place to develop this specific project.

“There is no wave of discontent,” said Jody Aufrichtig of LLTP, noting that the development had gone through a wide public approval process.

“The remaining handful of vocal objectors, who were given the opportunity to participate, just don’t like the outcome.”

BALANCING JOBS AND HERITAGE

Land, history and ownership are thorny issues in South Africa, where memories of forced displacement and segregation remain fresh almost three decades after the end of apartheid.

These sensitivities were taken into account when reviewing the project, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said in a statement, announcing his approval of the development.

“We are keenly aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, as well as heritage and planning considerations,” he said, touting development as a much needed boost to the economy. Cape Town’s economy dependent on tourism and crippled by the pandemic.

The project will create thousands of new jobs, according to LLTP, while paying homage to Khoi and San culture and history.

The designs include an indigenous garden and a heritage center where LLTP’s Aufrichtig said the Khoi and San descendants will work as operators and educators.

Such efforts have succeeded in winning over some Khoi and San, including a group calling themselves the First Nations Collective, which engaged directly with the developers.

“We chose the cultural agency rather than the evil of the government deadlock to achieve the goal of creating a liberated area for our people,” said Zenzile Khoisan, spokesperson for the Collective.

Mayor Plato gave the project the green light in April after a two-year interim heritage protection order was issued to allow time to consider opposition to the project, which lapsed last year. And Aufrichtig said development is now expected to start in mid-June.

But opponents, like Martinus Fredericks, supreme leader of the Traditional Council! Aman (Nama), said they were not ready to give up. They still hope to force a review or blocking of the building permit through the courts.

“We are going to go to court,” he said. “We will mobilize every Khoi and San in the country to stop this development.”

($ 1 = Rand 14.0506)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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