River Club development hangs in the balance

The River Club development has been under construction for the past six months.

The R4.6 billion development of the River Club site hangs in the balance after an application to halt its construction was heard in the Western Cape High Court last week.

Construction started in July last year on the development, which is set to house American multinational Amazon as an anchor tenant.

But the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council are seeking an interdict to halt construction, arguing that some indigenous groups were left out of consultations with the developers, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

“The interdict is simply to stop ongoing construction so that the threat to the heritage resources at the site is suspended and to allow the courts to decide whether the rezoning and environmental authorisations were properly awarded,” said the civic association’s chairman, Professor Leslie London.

Khoisan groups held a cleansing ceremony outside the court and appealed to Amazon and the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust to preserve the site’s heritage.

“The developers can’t justify how the world’s richest man can put a price on our heritage. We reject this development; it’s a crime against our heritage, a crime against our environment and its a crime against our humanity,” said Tauriq Jenkins, high commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council.

Francisco Mackenzie, representing the Western Cape Legislature Khoisan Council, said: “Where do the people of the Cape Flats go when they need spiritual healing? There can’t be any spiritual healing if there is a concrete block there.”

Danab Bradley van Sitter, of the Gorachouqua Tribe, said what was happening at the River Club site was a repeat of what had happened some 400 years ago when indigenous people were dispossessed of their land.

“This piece of land is a place where were can reflect and acknowledge our history. We need a place to see where our struggled started.”

More than 71 000 people have signed a petition, on Change.Org, against the development.

However, the developers argue that halting the development would hurt the people of Cape Town and cost 6 000 direct jobs and a further 19 000 indirect jobs.

“Currently, there are already 400 construction workers on site, who would immediately lose their jobs if the interdict application is successful,” said the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust’s James Tannenberger.

The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust denies the applicants were left out of consultations.

“During the heritage, environmental and development approval processes, both parties actively participated with written and oral submissions, with legal representation, during the comprehensive statutory public participation processes,” said Mr Tannenberger.

Their concerns had been considered and validly dismissed by the competent authorities when granting approval for the redevelopment, he said.

Deputy mayor Eddie Andrews said the City had given the go-ahead for the development subject to several “public interest” conditions, “including obliging the developer to construct public transport infrastructure, incorporate affordable housing, rehabilitate the Liesbeek River and dedicate approximately one-third of the site to high-quality green spaces for the public to enjoy”.

The developer also had to work with indigenous communities to ensure that the site’s heritage, which had been completely ignored, was commemorated in an appropriate and respectful way, he said.

In June last year, the developers signed a pact with the Western Cape First Nations Collective Trust, an indigenous group that has thrown its support behind the development (“Tribes split over River Club development pact,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, July 1).

The application to stop the development was heard by Deputy Judge President Patricia Lynette Goliath, and judgment has been reserved.

The applicants’ attorney, Cormac Cullinan, said that if his clients won, the developers would have to halt construction and there would be another hearing to determine if the development’s environmental authorisation was valid.

Members of the Observatory Civic Association, the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council and members of various indigenous groups holds a press conference after a day in court.