By Hanno Labuschagne for MyBroadband
An action group will be holding a march on Black Friday, 26 November 2021, to voice its opposition to the construction of Amazon’s new South African headquarters.
The Liesbeek Action Campaign, which claims to represent the San and Khoi, Goringhaicona, Observatory Civic Association, and 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.
According to current plans, Amazon will be the anchor tenant at the R4.5-billion project, developed on a site along the Liesbeek River by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.
It will consist of a mixed-use space divided into commercial and housing uses across two precincts.
The commercial area will include a hotel, retail space, restaurants, a school, and conference and event facilities.
The development is expected to boost the Cape Town economy and create more than 5,000 direct jobs and 19,000 indirect and induced jobs.
However, the Liesbeek Action Campaign wants the project to be dropped on “environmental and heritage grounds”.
It states 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“, which is calling for a global strike against the ecommerce giant’s wage policies, tax practices, and environmental impact.
“More than 70 trade unions, civil society organisations, environmentalists and tax watchdogs across 26 countries will take action on its infamous Black Friday sale to demand the shopping giant provide better treatment to its employees and address the concerns of communities impacted by this corporate behemoth,” said the group.
It is calling on supporters to join it at the planned development site to “reclaim the river as a protected life-giving entity that can’t be buried to make way for 150,000 square metres of concrete”.
“The Liesbeek Action Campaign is joining Make Amazon Pay to remind the world that the struggle against the River Club development is a global struggle because Amazon doesn’t appear to care what impact it has on workers, communities and the environment in whatever country it operates.”
“We see the same indifference here in Observatory as it shows when it exploits its workers and prevents their unionisation, and dodges taxes,” it added.
According to the group, the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) is busy grading the site as a national heritage resource. At the same time, the developers “ploughed ahead with indifference, constructing Amazon’s behemoth buildings that will forever destroy the intangible heritage of a key heritage site”.
Former Cape Town mayor Dan Plato previously warned that blocking the headquarters could cost the city and South Africa dearly.
Plato said not only would thousands of jobs be in jeopardy, but money expected to flow into the city, provincial, and national government’s coffers would be lost.
The objections raised by the Liesbeek Action Campaign have also been dismissed by the First Nations Collective, led by Chief Zenzile Khoisan.
The First Nations Collective includes leaders and structures who form part of the “Khoi and San” resurgence.
Khoisan explained that there was an agreement with the Liesbeek Lesure Properties Trust that would ensure the heritage, history, and culture of the First Nations group were preserved on-site.
The development will include an indigenous garden, heritage eco-trail, garden amphitheatre, and other symbols central to the First Nations narrative.
“This is the first developer in South Africa’s history to honour indigenous groups,” stated Khoisan.
“It’s a massive triumph because the entire 6km of this site is going to be landmarked with the searing narrative that represents our dispossession, our genocide,” he said.
“All of the crimes that have been committed are going to be signposted across this entire development.”
The developers have also promised to rehabilitate the River Club’s degraded lands and surrounding ecosystem, which ecological assessments regard as a “biodiversity bomb” due to the disintegrated river system and illegal dumping in recent years.