WATCH | Khoi and San groups battle over redevelopment of River Club site for Amazon's new Africa HQ

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  • Last week the Western Cape High Court heard an application to interdict a development at the River Club precinct in Observatory, Cape Town.
  • The interdict application was filed by the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council.
  • The main tenant in the R4.6 billion development is tech giant, Amazon.

Although a R4.6 billion development at the River Club precinct in Observatory, Cape Town, is already under way, an application to halt it was heard in the Western Cape High Court last week.

The interdict application was filed by two organisations that form part of the Liesbeek Action Campaign, the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, which argue that the land is an invaluable heritage site for indigenous communities.

The land is adjacent to the Liesbeek River and is situated on an environmentally significant flood plain, according to Observatory Civic Association chairperson Leslie London.

"The City's environmental management department opposed the development, but the City's planners overruled it," he said.

London said their reasoning for the application is "threefold".

He added:

Firstly, the site is a sacred flood plain, that's without dispute, no one disagrees with that. It's a significant site for heritage reasons; it was the site of first resistance for indigenous people to Portuguese intrusion and later war with the Dutch.

"Thirdly, it's a matter of democracy because the way in which this decision was made has undermined democratic processes," he said.

Amazon eyeing prime location 

The primary tenant in the development is tech giant Amazon, which intends to construct its Africa headquarters.

The land developer, the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust, has opposed the interdict on the basis of "economic potential".

However, Tauriq Jenkins, the high commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, said their heritage was not for sale.

"For us, when the world's richest man and the biggest company puts a price on our heritage, this is when we hold the line," Jenkins told News24.

He said that the majority of the Khoi and San were against this development and added that the construction on the " sacred" land was a "violation" of the Khoi and San's relationship with the "river, the land and the cosmos".

"This particular precinct is at the epicentre of our liberation and resistance."

Different perspectives

Another Khoi and San group, called the Western Cape First Nations Collective, says the developers have agreed to erect an international heritage and cultural centre, a garden of memory and a media centre in the middle of the development.

"The River Club development has afforded us the opportunity to create an actual physical space through which we can have cultural praxis, something that doesn't exist anywhere in Cape Town or the rest of South Africa," said chairperson of the collective, Chief Garu Zenzile Khoisan.

He said it would offer a unique opportunity to carry the message of indigeneity to South Africans and the rest of the world.

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