Amazon Africa HQ development halted after successful interdict
A high court judge found profit did not outweigh the rights of indigenous peoples.
Hundreds of people, consisting of Khoi and other First Nation, environmental and civic activists, march through the streets of the city protesting against the proposed new Amazon building on a particular site, and colonial-era statues standing in prominent positions in the inner city in Cape Town on June 16, 2021. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)
An interdict has been granted to temporarily halt the construction of Amazon Africa’s headquarters in Observatory, Cape Town.
Western Cape Division of the High Court in Cape Town’s Judge Patricia Goliath said in her judgement on Friday the rights of the Khoi and San peoples to culture and heritage was under threat if the development went ahead.
The Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council argued the the construction would case irreparable harm to the groups’ heritage.
City argues for construction
In April last year, the City of Cape Town gave the go-ahead for privately-held Liesbeek Leisure Properties to develop a R4 billion 150 000m2 mixed-use development at the River Club in Observatory for Amazon Africa headquarters.
Amazon was to be the anchor tenant, to occupy around 70 000m2 of space, Moneyweb reported.
The River Club currently features a golf course, offices, conference facilities, restaurants and a parking lot, and is near the Black River.
The city argued in court papers the development would “significantly” improve and provide a more efficient use of the land.
It also said the construction would solidify heritage commemoration, environmental rehabilitation, residential accommodation including affordable housing, a multimillion-rand public road network and the creation of thousands of jobs.
Building plans have a total construction investment value of R2.2 billion, with R1 billion to be added by August this year.
Consultation process ‘inadequate’
Judge Goliath, however, questioned the relevancy of the developers’ claim to suffer financial losses, saying they were fully aware of the risks involved in developing the contested site.
The benefits outlined by the city were also dismissed by Judge Goliath, who said the matter concerned the rights of indigenous peoples, a factor no economic perks could override.
The consultation process with First Nations Peoples was also found to be “wholly inadequate by Judge Goliath.
She said LLPT consultant Rudewaan Arendse’s reports exacerbated a divisive scenario, and that meaningful engagement and proper consultation had fallen flat.
Amazon may only continue with construction and any work on the site if two conditions are met. First, meaningful engagement must take place with First Nations Peoples. Second, a final determination on the validity of rezoning and environmental authorisation must be made.
The Liesbeek Action Campaign said in a statement Judge Goliath’s ruling confirmed the “urgency of heritage grading” of the River Club.
The organisation said the site had been “abused” by developers, with public officials’ “collusion”, for financial benefit over the living heritage “associated with the most significant pre-colonial landscape in the country”.
The organisation now plans to demonstrate in a high court review why the decisions for developers to be permitted to construct at the River Club in the first place were wrong.
“The River Club is part of a precinct that is current[ly] undergoing grading assessment as a National Heritage Site and which should have been declared a heritage park years ago.”