Concept approval for R4bn River Club development a ’slap in the face’ for indigenous people

The City has given the green light to the R4 billion Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust River Club development in the pipeline since 2015. Picture: Supplied

The City has given the green light to the R4 billion Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust River Club development in the pipeline since 2015. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 21, 2021


Cape Town – The concept approval for the controversial River Club redevelopment, which will include an indigenous garden and the naming of internal roads inspired by the First Nations narrative, was a “slap in the face” for Khoi communities, whose heritage continued to be trampled on, activists said.

Despite a massive outcry by indigenous groups and housing activists, the City announced they had given the green light to the R4 billion Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) River Club development in the pipeline since 2015.

The redevelopment of the Observatory site, on a 15-hectare parcel of land, is set to include shops, restaurants, offices, a hotel and school.

US retail giant, Amazon, will be the anchor tenant, opening a base of operations on the continent.

The proposed development will meet the requirements of inclusivity and integration, said the City.

“It combines various land uses and a mix of income groups by offering market-driven and affordable housing opportunities - the latter of which will be physically integrated with the other residential units in the apartment complexes.

“While the development has been approved as a concept, conditions have been attached requiring further stages of approval during which the developer must submit detailed plans on a range of development aspects,” the City said.

Adding that “indigenous Khoi groups have voiced support for the development”, the City said the development would honour the Khoi heritage through a number of features.

These include an indigenous garden, cultural, heritage and media centre for the First Nations, a heritage-eco trail, a garden amphitheatre for use by the First Nations and public, symbols central to the First Nations narrative and naming of internal roads inspired by the First Nations narrative.

“The site is not subject to restrictions such as a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone. However, the developer has undertaken to introduce various elements to celebrate culture and heritage where currently there are none,” the City said.

But high commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council Tauriq Jenkins said the decision and subsequent celebratory tone of the City’s announcement that the Khoi heritage will be honoured, was “a slap in the face and a lie”.

“The City has disavowed itself as it ignored the resistance by indigenous and traditional communities, civil society and environmental groups. This Amazon development on sacred terrain has been done without consent of most of the Khoi and San as well as residents in the surrounding areas. What are you saying when 23 000 people object?

“We have witnessed divide-and-conquer mechanisms being deployed where Khoi chiefs and civic leaders against the development have been subjected to threats and smear campaigns and where Observatory residents have been accused of being obstructive… for having legitimate environmental concerns. This is a point where battles of liberation and resistance were fought against colonial invasion,” said Jenkins.

He said there will be resistance legally as residents had a right to be enraged.

“The decision by the mayor and his mayco was a missed opportunity of acute national importance where they ought to have shown a modicum of moral courage. This is not a commemoration of our heritage. This is a stabbing at the wound itself,” said Jenkins.

The Observatory Civic Association (OCA) is meanwhile still collating funds via crowdfunding platform BackaBuddy to take legal action against the development.

“We have appealed unfair decisions that are ungrounded in evidence by both the City (rezoning) and the Provincial Authorities (an Environmental Authorisation). However, it appears our appeals to reason and to the facts have fallen on deaf ears and we are forced to turn to the courts for justice since the authorities are intent on approving this development even though the EA was described as ‘unlawful’ by the competent heritage authority,” the OCA said.

Spokesperson for the LLPT Jody Aufrichtig welcomed the City’s decision, saying: “We are proud that the River Club redevelopment can contribute to improving Capetonians’ quality of life and ability to sustainably live, work and play in our beautiful city together.

“The legislated planning approvals that follow rezoning approval must still be obtained and these processes are underway. We have engaged extensively and openly with various organisations including those for and against the redevelopment.

“We are proud to be incorporating developer-subsidised inclusive housing in proximity to economic opportunities as part of our private development. It’s perplexing that any organisation claiming to work for better inclusive housing opportunities wouldn’t support these plans.”

For housing activist group Ndifuna Ukwazi, Robyn Parkross said private developments must comply with the principle of spatial justice.

“This is a legislative requirement flowing from our planning law that aims to redress past spatial imbalances. But advancing spatial justice is also a moral requirement in the context of a society living in a post-colonial and post-apartheid city.

“Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust's allocation of 20% of the residential floor space for affordable housing has been used as part of a justification that they are advancing spatial justice in their development of the River Club. In reality this equates to just 4% of the total development,” said Parkross.

Cape Times