Jobs vs. Heritage: The Battle for Amazon’s New Africa Headquarters | Business and Economy News


For Khoi and San, the first inhabitants of South Africa, a green land in Cape Town embodies victory and tragedy.

The two communities dragged Portuguese soldiers who attacked cattle in 1510. But a century and a half later, it was here that Dutch settlers began a campaign of land dispossession.

Today is again the scene of another conflict, this time over a development where construction should begin this month, and finally there will be a new 70,000-square-foot African headquarters for US retail giant Amazon.

“Here the land was stolen for the first time,” said Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, a traditional Khoi group opposed to the project. “We want a world heritage site. We don’t want 150,000 tons of concrete. ”

The 37-acre waterfront area previously housed a golf course and a popular bar, a small blue plate, the only indication of its historical importance.

It is now earmarked for a 4 billion ($ 284 million) mixed-use development completed 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 center, finds itself as its anchor tenant, without any other big publicist knowing the city’s bosses or developers.

While some groups have welcomed the possibility of new jobs, the entire project, not Amazon’s specific plan, has faced a backlash from other community leaders, as well as environmentalists and activists. They have marched to the site and are now threatening to take the matter to court.

According to the Civic Association of the Observatory, which represents a nearby residential community, so far nearly 50,000 development objections have been filed with city and provincial authorities.

Disputed lands seen along the Black River in Cape Town, South Africa [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

Critics want development to stop and the area to be declared a provincial or national heritage site; environmentalists say it is important to preserve it because it is an ecologically sensitive area at the confluence of two rivers.

Amazon in South Africa and the United States declined to comment on the dispute and referred inquiries to the developer, Zenprop South Africa. In turn, he directed the consultations to Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLTP), the structure created to develop this specific project.

“There is no cause for misfortune,” said Jody Aufrichtig of LLTP, who stressed that the development went through an extensive public approval procedure.

“The handful of vocal objectors left, who were given a good chance to participate, just don’t like the outcome.”

Balance work and heritage

Land, its history and property are serious problems in South Africa, where memories of forced evictions and segregation remain fresh for almost three decades after the end of apartheid.

These sensitivities were taken into account when considering the project, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said in a statement announcing its approval for the development.

“We are deeply aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with considerations on wealth and planning,” he said, affirming development as a much-needed boost to the economy that depends on tourism and pandemic of Cape Town.

The project will create thousands of new jobs, says LLTP, while paying homage to Khoi and San culture and history.

The designs include an indigenous garden and a heritage center where LLTP’s Aufrichtig said Khoi and San’s descendants will work as operators and educators.

These efforts have managed to win over some Khoi and San, including a group called the First Nations Collective, which was directly related to the developers.

“We chose the cultural agency instead of the poor state of government blockade to achieve the goal of creating a liberated area for our people,” said Zenzile Khoisan, a spokesman for the First Nations collective.

Mayor Plato gave the green light to the project in April following a two-year interim heritage protection order, put in place to give time to examine opposition to the project, which expired last year. And Aufrichtig said that now development will begin in mid-June.

But opponents, such as Martinus Fredericks, supreme leader of the Aman Traditional Council (Nama), said they are not ready to surrender. They still hope to force a review or block planning permits through the courts.

“We’re going to get closer to the courts,” Fredericks said. “We will mobilize all the Khoi and San in the country to stop this development.”

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