A massive new complex, housing Amazon’s proposed South African headquarters along with a hotel and other businesses continues to face stiff opposition from indigenous Khoisan, environmental and community groups despite city officials already approving of construction of the nine-story construction.
Opponents say the project will ruin a historically significant riverside site in Cape Town and harm the environment. The Khoisan were some of the country’s first inhabitants and their presence in the southern tip of Africa dates back thousands of years.
“We’re in a situation where a terrain that is so sacred to the people of our country is not just under threat, but being damaged and destroyed as we speak,” said Tauriq Jenkins, high commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoi Indigenous Traditional Council, one of the groups fighting the project.
The site lies in the confluence of two rivers which are sacred to the Khoi and San. “For us today and for the seven generations to come, this is the beginning of a liberated zone for which we will never step away from our responsibilities to our people,” Zenzile Khoisan, protesting in front of the high court, told a reporter.
Construction has already begun at the site which is already occupied by a restaurant and golf course. But the case is currently stalled in an African court which has put off ruling on the group’s objections.
Property owners Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, or LLPT, said it did consult Indigenous groups while planning the site’s redevelopment. Company spokesperson James Tannenberger accused community leader Jenkins “of driving a misinformation campaign even as their concerns were validly dismissed by the competent authorities during the comprehensive three-year development approval process.”
Other Indigenous leaders have reportedly given their approval to the project, Tannenberger claimed. The project includes a museum and memorial site for the community, along with low-income housing and some 5,000 jobs.
June Bam-Hutchison, a researcher with the Center for African Studies at the University of Cape Town defended the protestors. “They’re enslaved, they’re oppressed, they’re exploited,” she said. “Their language was also taken away, their culture was taken away, their knowledge systems that sort of helped us in so many ways to build a more peaceful and healthier society, that has also taken away.”
She said their unique cultural identity was only acknowledged by South Africa in recent decades.
“Today, they are now being recognized. That took some time. The land question remains very much unresolved, highly disputed,” she added.
Jenkins said losing the case would set a dangerous precedent for giving up historic sites to corporate interests.
Amazon, which does not own the site but will be leasing the space once constructed, has been silent on the controversy. (GIN)