High Court halts River Club development

Speaking at the human rights walk at the Liesbeek River, from left, Advocate Rodney Solomons, Chief Francisco Mackenzie, representing the Western Cape Legislature Khoisan Council, High Commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, Tauriq Jenkins and chairperson of the Observatory Civic Association, Professor Leslie London.

The Western Cape High Court has ruled in favour of the applicants to halt the current R4.6 billion mixed-use development of the River Club in a judgment handed out last Friday March 18.

In January, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC) sought an interdict to halt construction, arguing that some indigenous groups were left out of consultations with the developers, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) (“River Club development hangs in the balance,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, January 27).

In the court ruling, Deputy Judge President Patricia Lynette Goliath ruled that LLPT, as the first respondent, is interdicted from taking part in any further construction at the River Club site.

She indicates that the developers should have further meaningful engagement and consultation with the affected First Nations groups. “The parties are granted permission to approach the court for further directives to facilitate an expedited review in this matter,” she says.

This mixed-use development’s construction started last July. It will include retail space, office space, a gym, hotel, restaurants, conferencing, school and events space and 20% of the residential floor space will be allocated for affordable housing opportunities. American fortune 500 company Amazon would be the anchor tenant of this development.

This decision has brought mixed feelings among the various groups of first nations people who are either for the development or against it.

On Human Rights Day on Monday, March 21, tensions were high when opposing first nations groups holding demonstrations and cultural events at the Two Rivers Urban Park came face to face.

Members of the Western Cape First Nations Collective Trust (FNCT), who represent many tribes in the peninsula that are for the development, voiced their concerns.

FNCT representative Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan says the other indigenous groups and organisations that are against the development do not represent their interest. “They do not represent the Khoi and San cause for restitution, restoration and recognition,” he says.

Chief !Garu Khoisan says this development will include a world class heritage centre, which will showcase and celebrate the Khoi and San culture.

In terms of the court interdict, Chief !Garu Khoisan says they read the judgement and they have prepared court papers and are preparing to go to court to appeal the judgement.

Chief Tania Kleinhans-Cedras from the Cochogua tribe that is for the development says the situation of the first nations people in the country is fragile. “The court has made a ruling and the Goringhaicona do not have jurisdiction over the Gorinhaiqua, so the historical foundation is incorrect,” she says.

She says the judge has made a decision that has provided an opportunity for deeper reflection on how they are going to address their approach internally and externally.

Due to tensions between the different tribal factions, the GKKITC, the OCA and other first nations people held their demonstrations and cultural events on the other side of the Liesbeek River near Liesbeek Avenue. They also held a cleansing ceremony, which was attended by scores of people.

The High Commissioner of the GKKITC, Tauriq Jenkins says the decision made by the judge places their heritage and culture at the forefront. “Today’s Human Rights Day celebrates our love for one another, love for our rivers, the embankments, the cosmos and the stars,” he says.

OCA chairperson, Professor Leslie London says the interdict that the judge granted indicates that the building can’t continue until there is proper consultation which did not happen. “There will be a process within the next few months where we will bring evidence to show that the bases of granting this development were faulty,” he says

Professor London says this should be a heritage site and should not be handed over to people in power to do with it as they like.

Trustee and spokesperson of LLPT, James Tannenberger says they will launch an appeal against Deputy Judge President Goliath’s decision to “urgently” interdict construction of the R4.6 billion redevelopment, two months after the court hearing took place, and eight months since the start of construction.

He says this decision, if it remains in place, will result in the permanent termination of thousands of jobs in the province.

“Between June last year and March this year, just under 4000 workers have been employed during various stages of construction on the site. When the ruling was delivered on Friday, March 18, there were 750 workers on the site who were sent home due to a halt in construction.”

He said the interdict has also put a stop to the extensive work that has already been undertaken to rehabilitate the heavily polluted waterways running adjacent to the River Club property.

The City of Cape Town’s spokesperson, Luthando Tyhalibongo says the City could not provide further detailed comment about the interdict at this stage.

“The City still needs to consider the court’s judgment ceasing all works on the River Club site in Observatory, and decide on what further steps are required.”

The Tatler has approached the Amazon who declined to comment on the matter.

FNCT representative Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan speaking at the Two Rivers Urban Park.
Tensions rose between different first nations groups who are for and against the River Club development.
The giant puppet by Ukwanda Puppets and Designs Art Collective known as the Water Spirit was controlled by Siphokazi Mpofu, left, and Sipho Ngxola.
Chief Tania Kleinhans-Cedras from the Cochogua tribe speaks to the audience at the Two Rivers Urban Park.