For the Khoi San people, who are the first inhabitants of south Africa, a stretch of land in Cape Town embodies victory and tragedy. After chasing away cattle-raiding Portuguese soldiers in 1510; and also facing another struggle a century and a half later when Dutch settlers launched a campaign of land dispossession; today their patch of land is the scene of another conflict, and this time it is over a development where construction is due to begin this month; and which will eventually be home to a new 70,000-square metre Africa headquarters for U.S. retail giant Amazon.
“This is where land was first stolen,” said Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, a Khoi traditional group opposed to the project. “We want a World Heritage Site. We do not want 150,000 tonnes of concrete.”
“Our heritage will be completely destroyed,” Aran Goringhaicona told AFP. “This place has a great spiritual significance for us,”; added the traditional leader who heads a collective opposed to the project. Together with a group of local residents, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA); they wrote to the developer, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), this week to warn it of their intention to challenge the project in court.
Amazon Facing Backlash
Reuters reports that, The 15-hectare riverside area was previously home to a golf driving range and popular bar; a small blue plaque the only indication of its historical significance.
It is now earmarked for a 4 billion rand ($284 million) mixed-use development; complete with a hotel, retail offices and residential units.
Amazon, which already employs thousands of people in Cape Town in a global call centre and data hubs, is lined up as its anchor tenant; with no other big names yet disclosed by city bosses or developers.
While some groups have welcomed the prospect of new jobs, the whole project, not Amazon’s specific plans; has faced a backlash from other community leaders as well as environmentalists and activists. They have held marches at the site and are now threatening to take the matter to court.
According to the Observatory Civic Association, which represents a nearby residential community, close to 50,000 objections to the development have been lodged so far with city and provincial authorities.
They want the development stopped and the area declared a provincial or national heritage site; environmentalists say it is important to preserve because it is an ecologically sensitive area at the confluence of two rivers.
Amazon in South Africa and the United States declined to comment on the dispute and referred queries to the developer, South Africa’s Zenprop. It in turn directed the queries to Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLTP), the structure set up to develop this specific project.
“There is no groundswell of unhappiness,” said LLTP’s Jody Aufrichtig, emphasising that the development went through an extensive public approval procedure.
“The handful of vocal objectors who remain, who were given fair opportunity to participate; simply do not like the outcome.”
Plans for Land of the Khoi San Heritage
Land, its history and its ownership are fraught issues in South Africa; where memories of forced removals and segregation remain fresh nearly three decades after the end of apartheid.
Such sensitivities were taken account when considering the project; Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said in a statement, announcing his approval of the development.
“We are acutely aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with heritage and planning considerations,”; he said, touting the development as a much-needed boost for Cape Town’s tourism-dependent, pandemic-crippled economy.
The project will create thousands of new jobs, LLTP say, while also paying tribute to Khoi San culture and history.
Designs include an indigenous garden and a heritage centre where LLTP’s Aufrichtig said Khoi San descendents will work as operators and educators.
Such efforts have succeeded in winning over some Khoi San people including a group calling itself; the First Nations Collective, which engaged directly with the developers.