Amazon’s new headquarters sparks outrage among South African natives

CAPE TOWN – On a grassy land with expansive views of Cape Town’s picturesque Table Mountain, a fleet of yellow tractors cleared the land for a new residential and commercial development. The $300 million price tag has stirred debate in South Africa not only because of its location, but also for its anchor tenant: the tech giant Amazon.

The 37-acre site, at the confluence of two rivers, is thought by many to lie in the area where the natives of South Africa first fought colonial invaders, and several leaders The natives consider this development an insult to the sacred ground.

“A concrete block for Amazon headquarters on this terrain is extremely egregious and obscene,” said Tauriq Jenkins, who leads about two dozen indigenous groups opposing the development.

But not all Indigenous leaders are on the same page. As Sheriff Zenzile Khoisan reviewed construction, he saw a win for his people: The developer agreed to build, in view of simply Amazon’s offices, a heritage center that tells the story. the story of what some call the First Nations of the country.

Big corporations have “damaged first countries,” said Khoisan, his tiny frame being blown away by the wind. “So maybe Amazon will get a little bit of training.”

Leaders of indigenous groups in South Africa are now locked in a war between vicious anecdotes about the future of a piece of land located in “one of the most important historical sites in the country”. , according to the agency in charge of protecting the heritage sites in the province of Western Cape.

The battle, which is also underway in court, has been marked by insults, accusations of treason and deeper debates over who can claim authentic Indigenous heritage and speak for the community. . South Africa’s indigenous communities have been ravaged for centuries by genocide and apartheid – so it’s often unclear who has the authority to speak out for indigenous peoples today.

The development of the River Club, named after a former golf club in the area, has also caused divisions within the government. Several politicians have rallied behind the project – city ​​of praise Amazon chose Cape Town as its “base of operations on the African continent” as an economic benefit. But officials with local environment and heritage agencies have voiced their objections.

A judge at the Western Cape Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit filed by opponents, who say construction should be halted because the development does not comply with heritage law.

Critics also see a repetition of a familiar cycle: The wealthy, and mostly white, benefit their way, while marginalized communities are contentious. together. A provincial estate court criticized government leaders for using the “politics of “divide and rule”.”

Indigenous identification is difficult in South Africa. Tens of thousands of years ago, a people today known as the San evolved out of prehistoric humans, says Michael De Jongh, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of South Africa. The Khoi have settled in this country 2,000 years ago. Then, starting about 800 years ago, black Africans from elsewhere on the continent migrated to South Africa.

Indigenous communities have been divided for many years, so being Indigenous in South Africa becomes more a matter of identifying with the culture and practice of traditions, than proving one’s ancestry. In recent decades, a renewed global interest in Indigenous Peoples has helped spur the formation of countless groups in South Africa that claim to be First Nations heritage. Parliament passed a law in 2019 allowing Indigenous groups to apply for official recognition. Many have claimed to be leaders of the First Nations.

Mr. Khoisan, 60, who has been identified as the head of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council, argued that Mr. Jenkins was being used as a front for the Observatory’s association of predominantly white, anti-development residents, suburbs surrounding the site. He also said that Mr. Jenkins was not actually Indigenous, but from Zimbabwe, and that his allies were a small group of “imposters”.

“Many of them are led by people with IQs below room temperature,” said Mr.

Mr. Jenkins, 41, who has been identified as a high commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditions Council, called Mr Khoisan’s description of him racist. He says he is South African and has been sworn in as Indigenous leader, but was born in Zimbabwe to activist parents living in exile there. In turn, he accused Mr Khoisan, a former journalist and anti-apartheid activist, of leading “a group of close-knit leaders” who were creating confusion over First Nations identities to help help developers.

Indigenous leaders and researchers generally agree that somewhere in the vicinity of the development, between the Black River and the Liesbeek River, Resilience against an attack by Portuguese explorer Francisco d’Almeida in 1510 during the first resistance against colonialism in South Africa. The first colonial claim to the land also occurred in this common area by Dutch settler Jan van Riebeeck in the late 17th century.

In 1939, the public railroad company completed the construction of a whites-only sports club for its workers on what is now the site of a development. In recent years, it has been a private golf course and practice ground.

The property’s owner, Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust, announced in late 2015 that it planned to build a development there. Mr. Jenkins first raised the concern at a public meeting with the developer in early 2018.

Mr. Jenkins talks about growing in a land where colonists attacked the natives who attacked us in original sin.

In late 2019, after provincial officials accused the developer of failing to properly consult First Nations people, indigenous advocates for the development made their first public appearance. Firstly.

Mr. Khoisan and his allies have formed a group called the First Nations Collective, which supports the development at public hearings and in news bulletins.

They negotiated a deal with the developer to build a First Nations heritage and media center, run by indigenous people, as well as an amphitheater, medicinal garden and educational signage.

The developer says on its website that the collective represents “the vast majority of Khoi and San’s senior leaders,” and that the development is supported by the “relevant” people of First Countries.

Patric Tariq Mellet, a leading South African Indigenous scholar, said in an email that while the collective’s leaders have solid credentials, neither party can claim to represent all people. Khoi or other disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

But Mr. Mellet is skeptical of the developer’s commitment to honoring Indigenous heritage, calling it an “open door exercise” that could be abandoned.

Jody Aufrichtig, one of the developers, said he has been looking to work with Indigenous people since the beginning of the project. As evidence, he provided an email from Ron Martin, a Khoi leader and heritage expert, from August 2016 in which Mr. Martin thanked Mr. Aufrichtig for engaging with First Nations people and offers to provide consulting services for 22,700 rand (about 1,500 US dollars).

Mr. Martin said in an interview that he has never worked as a consultant and has not received any payment from Mr. Aufrichtig.

“Any sort of inference that we as a group or as a whole the Khoi people sold their souls to a development for eight taels of silver, is ridiculous,” he said. “We are doing this for a much bigger cause. It is to preserve the heritage story of Khoi and San people. ”

Amazon, which has three data centers in the Cape Town area, was conspicuously silent when the controversy erupted, declining to comment on this or other news coverage.

Cape Town’s department of environmental stewardship has appealed to another agency’s approval, warning that the development brings “significant cumulative negative environmental impacts and risks, especially for with floods”.

And the provincial agency, Heritage Western Cape, argues that development will damage the value of the site as a sacred place for the natives.

“As the debate dragged on, the developer warned city officials” that he could lose Amazon as a partner interested in development, said Marian Nieuwoudt, member of Cape Town City Council. develop”. (The developer rep denied this in an interview.)

Finally, the provincial minister of environmental affairs approved the project last February, argues that the developers, who have altered the design more than 250 times, have done enough to reduce flood risk and enhance the heritage value of the area. He also praised plans to convert private golf clubs into primarily parkland. The mayor of Cape Town at the time signed off on the project last April.

James Vos, a City Council member that oversees economic development, said of Amazon, “For them to have their headquarters here in Cape Town, that means the whole world.”

But getting to this point has eclipsed it, said Cecil le Fleur, President of the National Council of Khoi and San, which the government established more than 20 years ago to represent Indigenous interests. the long struggle for recognition by the natives. He said that he has no view on development.

“I don’t feel happy to see how our people are increasingly divided,” he said.

Lynsey Chutel contribution report. Amazon’s new headquarters sparks outrage among South African natives

Fry Electronics Team

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