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Group denies spreading misinformation about River Club site and indigenous people

DA leader Helen Zille, columnist Ivo Vegter, and Resolve Communications, a PR company connected to former DA leader Tony Leon dismissed accusations of collusion by Liesbeek Action Campaign. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

DA leader Helen Zille, columnist Ivo Vegter, and Resolve Communications, a PR company connected to former DA leader Tony Leon dismissed accusations of collusion by Liesbeek Action Campaign. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Published May 19, 2022

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Cape Town - Two individuals and a public relations firm accused by groups against the now halted R4.5 billion development at the River Club in Observatory of running a relentless misinformation campaign have rejected allegations of collusion.

DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille, columnist Ivo Vegter, and Resolve Communications, a PR company connected to former DA leader Tony Leon, dismissed the accusations by the Liesbeek Action Campaign (LAC).

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The LAC had alleged they colluded to create doubt on the authenticity of indigenous groups opposed to the development on what the groups considered sacred land. The LAC and its partners want to preserve the site as part of the national estate. Both the DA-run City and the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs have authorised the development.

“It should be lost on no one that this is an all-white bench of commentators pronouncing on what’s best for indigenous people,” a LAC statement read.

They accused their detractors of holding “paternalistic, arrogant assumptions” and said they should take the trouble to listen to indigenous people, like the 61 groups that sought heritage status for the area and the many comments from indigenous people who signed a petition which had collected more than 73 000 signatures.

Approached for comment, Zille said: “Anyone can make any allegations they like. Unless they can produce the evidence, it has zero credibility.”

Issuing his denial, Vegter said his published views, in two columns on the subject, were entirely his own.

“They are neither co-ordinated with anyone, nor are they, to the best of my knowledge, disinformation.”

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He admitted that he doubted the authenticity of the indigenous groups objecting to the development of sacred land. Vegter said it seemed clear to him that LAC’s objection was entirely motivated by ideological opposition to development by a multinational corporation.

The River Club development is expected to house e-commerce giant Amazon.

A Resolve Communications spokesperson said their role was to provide professional communication services, and assist their clients (the developers) with the creation of fact and evidence-based content.

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“We are proud of the work that is being done to help make sure the enormous heritage, economic and environmental benefits that will be delivered by the River Club redevelopment are widely understood by the public. Any other claim is utter nonsense.”

However, Observatory Civic Association chairperson Leslie London said: “That they are spreading disinformation is clear. The fact that similar stories and fabrications are being placed or circulated in different places is also clear. So we don’t believe that it is coincidental.”

Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council high commissioner, Tauriq Jenkins, said their detractors were “spreading distorted colonial theories of virgin land or empty land theories while attempting to diminish the historical and indigenous narrative of the landscape”.

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He said such behaviour was Verwoerdian, violent and shameful.

“The San and Khoi are custodians of this land and no amount of racist propaganda will change that fact,” he said.

With regard to the potential of the development to create jobs, the LAC said none of the commentators, nor Amazon, the intended anchor tenant, nor the developer had provided any reason why this particular site was chosen.

“In fact, Amazon initially shortlisted five sites as suitable, which did not include the River Club, a site on a floodplain that complicates construction and requires infilling of a river with 220 000m3 of infill to support the 150 000m2 of concrete footprint required.”

Last week First Nations leader Zenzile Khoisan said that the Western Cape First Nations Collective (WCFNC), which represented a number of Khoi and San leaders and were part of the initial consultation process on the development, had a vested interest in the project.

They said the project, which had been interdicted by the Western Cape High Court, had secured hundreds of jobs for unemployed youth, as well as several cultural and heritage features as sites of memory and living cultural practice at the site.

Khoisan said they would approach the Supreme Court of Appeal and were confident that a different court and a full Bench would have a more intense deliberation on the matter.

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Cape Argus

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