Update: This article has been updated with a right of reply by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT).
A protest group has announced plans to hold a march against the construction of Amazon’s new South African headquarters on Black Friday (26 November).
The Liesbeek Action Campaign, which represents the San and Khoi, Goringhaicona, Observatory Civic Association, and other indigenous peoples of South Africa, plans to hand over a petition with 57,600 signatures to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos at the site of the development in River Club, Cape Town.
In April 2021, the City of Cape Town announced that it had greenlit the multi-billion-rand River Club mixed-use development, which will be the new home of Amazon in Africa.
The development design intends to create a 150,000 square metre mixed-use space, divided into commercial and housing uses across two precincts. The developer intends 31,900 square metres to be used for residential purposes. It is envisaged that 5,239 jobs will be created in the construction phase alone. The project will also create up to 19,000 indirect and induced jobs, it said.
The Liesbeek Action Campaign wants the project to be dropped, citing environmental and heritage concerns. It said that the River Club site was a floodplain location and an area of historical significance where earlier battles between South Africa’s indigenous people Portuguese settlers took place over 500 years ago.
The march on Friday forms part of a broader global movement dubbed “Make Amazon Pay “, calling for a global strike against the e-commerce giant’s wage policies, tax practices, and environmental impact, MyBroadband reported.
Other retailers face protest action on Black Friday – including the Walmart-owned group Massmart.
The South African Commercial, Catering, and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) is striking against Makro and other retail stores in the group due to an ongoing labour dispute. The strike action has received the support of the country’s largest trade federation Cosatu.
Massmart said that strike contingency plans had been implemented to ensure the continued smooth operation of its stores, which includes mobilising and deploying experienced contract employees who are familiar with store processes.
“We would also like to thank all the customers who have expressed their support for the company, and most notably our customers in Kwa-Zulu Natal,” it said.
Right of reply
James Tannenberger of the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) has requested a right of reply to the protest. It is published in full below and can be downloaded here.
The article “Amazon faces Black Friday march in South Africa” (Business Tech, 24 November 2021) contains a number of lies that are currently being peddled by a small group who are opposed to the River Club redevelopment in Observatory, Cape Town.
First, the groups’ claims that the site is a floodplain location and an area of historical significance, where earlier battles between South Africa’s indigenous people and Portuguese settlers took place, a story repeated despite this group knowing the facts.
The real facts are that the privately owned property, which previously housed a driving range, mashie golf course and tarmac parking lot, is severely degraded, including the natural resources on and next to the property. While the property, like most of the surrounding communities is within the 1 in 100 year floodplain, it is not a wetland.
As part of the redevelopment of the property and surrounds, R38 million will be allocated to rehabilitate the riverine corridor, including replacing the concrete canal in which the river flows along the property into a beautiful naturalised riverine environment that will provide a vastly improved habitat for a range of species including the endangered Western Leopard Toad and Dwarf Chameleon. That is why independent specialists view the project as a major ecological gain and an unprecedented rehabilitation initiative in Cape Town.
Furthermore independent Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA) undertaken of the site as well as the broader Two Rivers area, by experts, and based on the written historical accounts and oral history of the indigenous tribes, including the Gorinhaiqua, who are recognised as the historical custodians of the area, confirm that the 1510 battle between the Gorinhaiqua and D Almeida’s soldiers more than likely took place some distance from the site, on a beach in the Salt River area and not the River Club property (which at that time was marshland).
The redevelopment, will in fact, include a number of features aimed at memorialising and celebrating the history and heritage of the broader Two Rivers area (of which the River Club property makes up 5%) and will include a heritage and cultural centre managed by the First Nations, an amphitheatre for cultural events and a medicinal indigenous garden. Ecological and heritage trails will encircle and run through the development. That is why the majority of Khoi and San leaders in the Cape Peninsula support the redevelopment.
The group also continue to peddle lies about the project’s impact on Climate Change.
The Environmental Basic Assessment for the redevelopment undertaken by independent environmental practitioners (of SRK Consulting), which was further peer reviewed by an independent leading carbon and climate change advisory firm, Promethium Carbon, affirms that the project, including the rehabilitation of the Liesbeek River, will not impact negatively on climate change.
The green principles practices being applied in the construction and building phases make this one of the few sustainable green developments in the country. There will also be no violation of climate change policy, nor the Paris Accord.
Finally, the article also mentions a petition against the redevelopment, which the group claims has 57 600 signatories. This is not a new petition, it was handed over by the same group a few months ago at a protest held in the Bo-Kaap on Heritage Day, to protest what in their view will be the irreparable harm to intangible heritage and the environment if the property, that was used as a golf course and tarmac, is redeveloped.
As is the case with their entire campaign, the online petition they published is baseless, without a single expert report to support their personal views, and was circulated after the transparent, legislated public participation process that was undertaken when the project was assessed and finally approved, without allowing the developer and the experts to respond to the misinformation contained in this petition.
For this very reason, petitions of this nature (clicked on in support by the unnamed, from anywhere in the world) hold no weight and are completely disregarded by the authorities when considering a development application and by the courts The fact that under 50 protestors (or onlookers) turned up for Friday’s protest action highlights the true level of support this small group enjoys.
The redevelopment will deliver a range of other benefits including offices, retail space, housing, of which 20% will be developer subsidized inclusionary, integrated with the market-driven residential precinct. Over 60% of the redevelopment will also be retained as open space that will be accessible to the public, including 6km of running and cycling routes. It is therefore clear that the project will be much more than one tenant, namely Amazon.
With construction well underway, the LLPT remains committed to delivering a development that will create over 6000 direct jobs and presents so many exciting opportunities for the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape.