Amazon HQ saga: Site developers relieved by court judgment on mega project in Cape Town

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Construction work in progress at the River Club development in Cape Town.
Construction work in progress at the River Club development in Cape Town.
PHOTO: Jaco Marais
  • The developers of the sprawling mixed use River Club development were relieved by the judgment rescinding an order that they stop building.
  • They had argued that it threatened the entire project, and would mean financial ruin and the loss of thousands of potential jobs.
  • The opponents of the development felt they were outmanoeuvred due to lawfare by highly-paid legal teams, and will seek legal advice. 

The Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust (LLPT) welcomed the rescission of an order that they stop building on the River Club site, which is part of a multibillion-rand development that will also house Amazon's headquarters in Cape Town. 

"[LLPT] welcomes the judgment delivered today by a full Bench of the Western Cape High Court, which dismissed Deputy Judge President Goliath's judgment and orders [handed down on 18th March 2022] to interdict construction of the River Club redevelopment with costs.

"This is a major win for all Capetonians who stand to benefit from the R4.6 billion project."

The LLPT continued: "This judgment sends a clear message to those who have tried to stop the development at all costs with little or no regard to the social upliftment of surrounding communities. It is therefore with relief that LLPT welcomes today's judgment, which is clearly in the interests of all Capetonians."

READ | 'It's Amazon': City of Cape Town says River Club development will protect - not harm - heritage

The judgment handed down on Tuesday by three judges of the Western Cape High Court was a blow to indigenous knowledge specialist and academic Tauriq Jenkins, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), and a faction of the Ghoringaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC).

Judges Elizabeth Baartman, Hayley Slingers and James Lekuleni found that the order to stop construction was granted on a falsehood submitted to Goliath. 

They found that Jenkins was not the valid representative of the GKKITC in terms of a mandate to litigate this matter.  

"It seems Mr Jenkins was determined to stop the development at all costs," said Baartman.

Baartman continued: 

He therefore fabricated a constitution to suit his objective and betrayed the trust others had in him. I do not come to this conclusion lightly...

"We are very disappointed," Jenkins told News24, adding that they would study the judgment and discuss it with lawyers. 

A statement with the logos of the OCA, the GKKITC and the Liesbeek Action Campaign (LAC) said: "We are deeply disappointed at the outcome. We do not believe that the facts put before the court enabled the court to make a fair judgment. Much of Tauriq Jenkins' affidavit would have put paid to the arguments presented in court, but because his affidavit was late, it could not be accepted in the proceedings."

The statement confirmed the parties' confidence in Jenkins' position in the GKKITC, despite the judges finding that he had no standing, and said they believed he did not mislead the court.

They still felt the development was about the extraction of profit at the expense of intangible heritage and the environment. 

"The ready access to highly-paid legal teams has meant that a civic organisation and an indigenous council have been outmanoeuvred in a play of lawfare," they stated. "We are taking further legal advice on how best to proceed."

During the matter, one group representing First Nations people felt that the development would not only hold the promise of work in a time of extreme poverty and unemployment, but that the developers' promises to build a heritage centre, green spaces, and a medicinal herb garden would be the first time the First Nations were truly honoured. 

The OCA, Jenkins and the faction of the GKKITC he represented, and the LAC maintained that the site was more than just a golf club and a parking lot, but a space of extreme cultural and historical importance to the people of the First Nations.  

As some of the lawyers pointed out in the many court applications, the heritage of the site was intangible. It was held in the form of memory and oral history, not evidenced by the more conventional tangible remnants of old structures, skeletal remains or shards of pottery.

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