Popularly known for e-commerce and human rights violations, Amazon already has a running operation in South Africa with three data centres, approx. 7,000 employees, and regular recruitment. Looking to have a continental base for its web services and online retail activities, the company planned for a headquarters in the City of Cape Town. It was given official approval to build on a 37-acre site, located at the confluence of two rivers in April 2021.
Early this year the Liesbeek Action Campaign, which includes indigenous groups and environmentalists, filed for an urgent court interdict against the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust and the City of Cape Town, to permanently halt construction of the commercial and residential development.
They stated that it sits at a point where Khoi communities repelled Portuguese soldiers in 1510, the first South African resistance to colonialism. They also pointed to the environmental impact the headquarters will cause, the area is a floodplain, and construction would increase the risk of flooding and cause other environmental issues.
They also alleged that the relevant parties did not follow legal procedures to attain approval for the construction so as to rush its development.
Following this complaint, mass protests, and tens of thousands of objections from various groups, the High Court in Cape Town has ordered that Amazon must pause construction of this 4-billion-rand ($300 million) project.
Judge Patricia Goliath said in her ruling that Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), owner of the 37-acre site in Cape Town, must stop construction immediately pending “proper and meaningful consultation” with the Khoi and San indigenous populations. “This matter ultimately concerns the rights of indigenous peoples… the fundamental right to culture and heritage of indigenous groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations Peoples, are under threat in the absence of proper consultation,” she said in her ruling.
Goliath added that the rights of indigenous people outweigh economic considerations, “The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples.”
The Liesbeek Action Campaign applauded the cease order saying the site represents the “Ground Zero of resistance to colonial intrusion in South Africa … that can never be buried in concrete.”
Traditional Council High Commissioner, Tauriq Jenkins said in a pre-trial video, “Despite the irrefutable oral historic narrative that underpins the value and the incredible treasure that this precinct is, Amazon has chosen, out of all the sites it was given options for, this particular site, to put its concrete block…” He cited previous land infringements in the same area and cautioned that history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.
Quartz reports that Amazon had promised to build a heritage centre near its office environs to placate some indigenous groups. If the retail giant was not accustomed to regular human rights violations and economic abuse, they would have realised the inadequacy of this ‘concession’. It is to be seen whether they will do the right thing and abandon the project or fight to keep the project going.