Final chapter in River Club battle

The River Club development has been under construction for the past two years.

The Observatory Civic Association (OCA) has finally conceded defeat in its campaign to stop the multi-billion rand River Club development.

In a statement, OCA chairman Professor Leslie London said they had settled the matter.

“The process of settlement involved approaching the different parties to broach the idea of waiving the costs orders in exchange for our withdrawal of any court action regarding the development.”

A court ruling last November and a failed Supreme Court of Appeal bid in May that both saw costs awarded against the OCA meant it would have had to have coughed up the legal bills for the River Club developers, the City, the provincial government and the Western Cape First Nations Collective – an amount estimated to run into millions of rand.

The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) announced plans in 2016 for a R4.6 billion mixed-used development of office blocks, shops, flats and an indigenous-culture centre. With the promise of e-commerce multinational Amazon as an anchor tenant, construction started in July 2021.

However, the OCA and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC) won an interdict in the Western Cape High Court in March last year stopping the development. Deputy Judge President Patricia Lynette Goliath said developers should have further meaningful engagement and consultation with the affected indigenous groups (“High Court halts River Club development,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, March 24, 2022).

But in a subsequent judgment in November, Judge Elizabeth Baartman, with Judge Hayley Maud Slingers and Judge James Lekhuleni concurring, rescinded the interdict saying the original ruling that granted it had been “induced by fraud”. The judgment awarded costs against the OCA.

The judgment said the case brought by High Commissioner Tauriq Jenkins of the GKKITC in March was invalid as he did not have the authority to represent the GKKITC on the matter and the GKKITC leadership had not authorised the litigation to halt the development (“Court victory for River Club developers,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, November 10, 2022)

The final blow to the OCA came in May when the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed its application, with costs, for special leave of appeal.

Professor London said the organisation had stuck to its principles and spoken truth to power. “Since 2016, we have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, fake emails, smears, threats, undermining of our funding platform, anonymous websites, anonymous pamphlet campaigns, exhorting Observatory residents to join the civic to remove us from litigation.”

He conceded the development created jobs but said those jobs would still have been created had Amazon chosen a different site for its headquarters.

“We have sacrificed a site of enormous cultural, spiritual and environmental significance, to create jobs that could have been generated by a development at a different site.”

Expressing his disappointment with the outcome of the River Club battle, Professor London said the OCA had had to fight not only big businesses but also the City and provincial government, which had backed the development.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the City had accepted the OCA’s settlement offer for a full and final cessation of all legal action in relation to the River Club development.

“The City is pleased with this outcome and the clear message it conveys – that the City will always vigorously defend planning decisions taken correctly, and will act to protect Cape Town’s reputation as a leading global investment destination.”

In a statement, the LLPT said that it had been with “obvious reservation” that they had agreed to settle with the OCA, but they had wanted to move on as their main priority was to deliver a world-class development that offered many economic benefits and celebrated the province’s rich history and heritage.

The settlement, they said, brought finality to what they still felt was a “vexatious, inappropriate and meritless legal campaign by the OCA and its associates to try to stop the development at all costs”.