Fight to stop River Club development continues

Trucks, bulldozers and cranes on the River Club site which is currently under development.

What is happening to the River Club site in Observatory is a repeat of what happened there more than 400 years ago when indigenous people were dispossessed of their land.

So say the hundreds of protesters who gathered at the entrance of the Two Rivers Urban Park to voice their opposition to a multi-billion rand development there that will have American multinational technology company Amazon as an anchor tenant.

The protesters, from various “first nations” groups and civic organisations stood alongside Liesbeek Parkway and Observatory Road, with placards saying: “Our heritage is not for sale”, “This is a sacred heritage site” and “Amazon has no respect for us”.

The development started more than three months ago, but Observatory Civic Association (OCA) chairperson Leslie London says the administrative process the City took to approve it was flawed.

“The developers have been building on the far precinct, and we have applied for a court interdict to stop the building.”

Along with the interdict, the OCA, together with the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), is seeking a high court review of the decision by the City and Province to grant approval for the development.

In April, the City gave the go-ahead for the proposal by Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) for a R4 billion mixed-development over an area the size of 15 rugby fields (“City gives go-ahead for massive River Club development,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, April 29).

However, several groups continue to oppose development, saying it will destroy the heritage of the site.

Two Rivers Urban Park Association (TRUPA) chairperson Marc Turok said the development was happening within a floodplain on sacred land.

“We cannot go back on the policy of the City, which is supposed to protect areas like this,” he said. “ This is a significant heritage site in the Cape that tells the story of who we are.”

Also opposed to the develpment is Tauriq Jenkins, the high commissioner of the GKKITC.

“When the world’s richest man in the world’s richest company can put a price on something so sacred to all of us, we have to hold the line,” he said.

What was happening now mirrored what had happened in 1657 when another multinational, the Dutch East India Company, had dispossessed indigenous people by granting title deeds to settlers, he said.

“Today we say our heritage is not for sale,” he said.

Shedrick Kleinschmidt, who is known as Paramount Chief Sedas of the /Xam Nation, said: “Today I stand with tears because people in this new government were allowed to sign away a heritage site of the /Xam people.”

Chief Sedas said they were there to tell the government that the land did not belong to it.

General Secretary of the Griquas Traditional Royal Authority of the Western Cape Mushfiqah Arendse said: “We have a constitution, and this land belongs to the Khoi and San, and we want the government to acknowledge and return it to us.

“Is this still like 400 years ago when our land and rights were taken away from us?”

In an unsigned statement, the LLPT said it was unfortunate that a “small fringe group” was trying to stop a project on private land, months after the lawful approvals had been granted. The development would create more than 6000 direct and 19 000 indirect jobs at a time when they were badly needed.

In June, the Western Cape First Nations Collective Trust (FNCT) signed a social pact with the LLPT, essentially throwing its support behind the development (“Tribes split over River Club development pact,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, July 1).

The LLPT, which is opposing the review bid, said there were no valid grounds to prevent the development from going ahead.

City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the matter was before the Western Cape High Court for review.

“The first part of the review application, which is an application for an interdict to cease all works on site, will be heard on Wednesday November 24 and November 25.”

Sibusiso Nkundlane, of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, stands with his placard alongside the Liesbeek River near the development.
Protesters line Liesbeek Parkway with placards opposing the development.
Members of the Griquas Traditional Royal Authority of the Western Cape holding up their placards from left, Mushfiqah Arendse, Rossetta Hendricks, Daniel Rass and Johanna Pypers.