The proposed new location for an Amazon headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, has met fierce opposition from historic and environmental activists, who are objecting to the decision to build on the sizable plot of land.
For the Khoi and San people – the first inhabitants of South Africa – a green patch of land in Cape Town embodies victory and tragedy. The two communities drove back Portuguese soldiers who looted livestock in 1510.
A century and a half later, Dutch settlers launched a campaign of land expropriation here. Today, the same patch of land is again the scene of conflict, this time over a development due to begin construction this month and which will eventually house a new 70,000-square-foot African headquarters for US retail giant Amazon.
“Land was stolen here for the first time,” said Tauriq Jenkins of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, a traditional Khoi group that opposes the project. “We want a world heritage site. We don’t want 150,000 tons of concrete.
” The 15-acre riverine area was previously home to a driving range and popular bar, with a small blue plaque as the only indication of the site’s historical significance.
The land is now earmarked for a four billion rand (£200 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 center and data hubs, is lining up as the main tenant, with no other big names yet to be announced by city bosses or developers.
While some groups have welcomed the prospect of new jobs, the entire project — not Amazon’s specific plans — has faced backlash from other community leaders, as well as environmentalists and activists. They have held marches on the site and are now threatening to take the case to court.
According to the Observatory Civic Association, which represents a nearby residential community, nearly 50,000 objections to the development have so far been filed with the city and county authorities.
They want the development to stop and the area to be declared a provincial or national monument. Environmentalists also agree that it is important to preserve the area as it is ecologically sensitive at the confluence of two rivers.
Amazon, both in South Africa and the US, has declined to comment on the dispute and has referred media questions to the developer, Zenprop of South Africa.
She in turn forwarded the questions to Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLTP), the structure set up to develop this particular project. “There has been no tidal wave of discontent,” said LLTP’s Jody Aufrichtig, stressing that the development has gone through an extensive public approval process.
“The handful of vocal opponents that remain, who have been given a fair chance to participate, simply don’t like the outcome.
” Land, its history and property are fraught issues in South Africa, where memories of forced relocations and segregation are still fresh nearly three decades after the end of apartheid.
Such sensitivities were taken into account when considering the project, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said in a statement when announcing his approval of the development.
“We are well aware of the need to balance investment and job creation along with heritage and planning considerations,” Plato said, touting the development as a much-needed boost to the tourism-dependent, pandemic Cape Town’s crippled economy.
The project will create thousands of new jobs, LLTP says, while also paying tribute to the culture and history of Khoi and San.
Proposed designs include an indigenous garden and heritage center where LLTP’s Aufrichtig said Khoi and San descendants will work as operators and educators.
Such efforts have managed to win over a number of Khoi and San, including a group calling itself the First Nations Collective, which has direct contact with the developers.
“We have opted for a cultural institution rather than the evil of the government’s deadlock to achieve the goal of creating a liberated zone for our people,” said Zenzile Khoisan, spokesperson for the Collective.
Plato gave the project the green light in April this year after a preliminary heritage protection order was issued last year to allow time to investigate opposition to the project.
Aufrichtig said development should now begin in mid-June. However, opponents such as Martinus Fredericks, chief of the !Aman (Nama) Traditional Council, said they are not ready to give up.
Nevertheless, they hope to enforce a review or blocking of the building permit through the courts.
“We will approach the courts,” Fredericks said. “We will mobilize every Khoi and San person in the country to stop that development.”