Tribes split over River Club development pact

Members of the First Nations Collective Trust (FNCT) gather around Jody Aufrichtig from Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan of FNCT, mayor Dan Plato and Queen Katrina Esau of the San.

The developers behind the controversial, multi-billion rand River Club development have signed a “social compact” with a Khoisan group, but other tribal leaders say the deal excluded them and does their heritage no favours.

The Western Cape First Nations Collective Trust (FNCT) signed the pact with the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), at the River Club in Observatory, on Wednesday June 23.

LLPT trustee Jody Aufrichtig said it was a model of cooperation between the LLPT, which owns the land, and the Khoi and San collective to commemorate and celebrate the rich history and heritage of indigenous people on the site, for the sake of future generations.

Amazon plans to house its African headquarters in the R4.5 billion mixed-used development, which has the green light from both the City and Province. The social compact lays out the LLPT’s commitment to build a heritage centre, indigenous garden, heritage eco-trail and garden amphitheatre. The pact grants the FNCT exclusive use and custodianship of the heritage centre.

FNCT representative Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan said: “We as the first nations, have fought a battle for almost three decades; we have gone everywhere, even to presidents of this country, but what we did here at the River Club was an act of radical reconciliation.”

However, other indigenous groups feel differently about the deal.

Shedrick Kleinschmidt, who is known as Paramount Chief Sedres of the /Xam Nation, said he was disappointed by the latest developments. “Many of these tribes are not representative of this region and there was no communication between the developers and us,” he said.

Chief Sedres feels the tribal leaders who signed the pact are representing themselves, not their tribes.

Tauriq Jenkins, high commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council (GKKT), was unavailable to comment on the pact, but his organisation has opposed the development every step of the way. Mr Jenkins told the Tatler in April that the development did not have their consent.

“We say no to Amazon and no to Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust,” he said. (“First Walk of Resistance celebrates heritage,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, April 29)

On Youth Day, June 16, a Walk of Resistance by the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), the GKKT and more than 120 walkers from different tribes and civic groups presented the City with 50 000 signatures of those opposing the development.

In an earlier Walk of Resistance, Freedom Day, April 27, indigenous groups and civic associations walked from Oude Molen Village towards Two Rivers Urban Park, which is next to the River Club. (“First Walk of Resistance celebrates heritage,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, April 29)

OCA chairman Leslie London said the “so-called” social compact was an agreement between two private partners, negotiated in secret, for private, not social, benefits.

“The so-called social benefits appear to exclude the majority of Khoi groups who oppose the development, not to mention the rest of society who believe that there are different ways to celebrate Khoi heritage and protect the environment,” he said.

Mr London said the development would destroy the open character of the Liesbeeck Valley.

Mayor Dan Plato, who was at the signing of the pact, said the FNCT represented more than 200 groupings. He acknowledged that there were indigenous factions both for and against the development.

“In assessing the development application, it is clear that the development would celebrate heritage, create economic opportunity and rehabilitate the surrounding environment,” he said.

“Not only will our important history be acknowledged, but this development will also be a significant boost to our city’s economy in the wake of the devastation of the pandemic.”

Mr Aufrichtig said the development would not only celebrate the rich heritage of the country’s indigenous people but also provide 6000 job opportunities, subsidised housing and safe recreational areas.

The OCA is raising funds through BackaBuddy to mount a high-court challenge to the development.

FNCT members Hilary-Jane Solomons and Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan sign the social compact with LLPT trustee Jody Aufrichtig.