Right of reply: Kwet is wrong about Amazon’s new Cape Town HQ

The article “Amazon’s colonial HQ in Cape Town must be stopped (Mail & Guardian, 26 January 2022) features false claims about the River Club redevelopment in Observatory, Cape Town, in an attempt to discredit  Amazon, which will be an anchor tenant in the R4.6-billion private development. 

The author, Michael Kwet, mentions an interdict application to halt the project, which was heard by the Western Cape high court in January, with judgment currently reserved. 

The interdict application was launched by two parties, namely Professor Leslie London, who is the current chairperson of a resident’s association of a neighbouring community called the Observatory Civic Association (whose members number 55) and a Mr Jenkins, also a member of OCA (and its previous secretary, vice-chairperson and chairperson) and the self-proclaimed supreme high commissioner of the Gorinhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, a voluntary cultural association. 

The application has been opposed by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape government and the majority of First Nations leaders and groups in the province, who are known as the Western Cape First Nations Collective. 

This is not the first time that Kwet has penned an article that repeats the inaccuracies that have been put forward by London and Jenkins about the River Club redevelopment. This includes stating that the River Club site is a critical environmental flood plain and the planned project would destroy indigenous culture. Yet, the exact opposite is true. 

First, the development has the support of the Western Cape First Nations Collective, including the Gorinhaiqua — the recognised historical custodians of the Two Rivers landscape of which the River Club property forms 5%. 

This is because the project will celebrate the intangible heritage of the broader Two Rivers area and will include several heritage features including a cultural, heritage and media centre, that will be operated and managed by the First Nations, an indigenous garden, heritage eco-trail and garden amphitheatre to function both as sites of memory and living cultural practice and celebration. It is for this reason that the Western Cape First Nations Collective  joined as eighth respondents to the interdict application, as they will suffer immense prejudice should the project be halted.

Second, in contrast to Kwet’s claims, before construction started, the River Club property housed a mashie golf course, driving range, restaurant, bar and tarmac parking lot. It is also an infill site and the water courses, including the Liesbeek River, running adjacent to the property are severely degraded and polluted. Some R38-million will be spent on rehabilitating and naturalising the riverine corridor, which will boast a much improved habitat for a number of species including the Western Cape leopard toad, the giant kingfisher and the Cape dwarf chameleon. Both channels of the Liesbeek River that run alongside the site will also play an important role in managing stormwater. 

More than 60% of the site will also be dedicated to open spaces that will be accessible to the public, including a 65m to 75m ecological park and 6km of running and cycling pathways. 

Furthermore, while Kwet rages against “digital colonialism”, a total of 5 329 construction jobs will be created by the project as well as 860 jobs when operational. This does not include the many employment opportunities that will be created by tenants in the redevelopment. Currently, there are 400 construction workers on the site, who would lose their jobs if the project was halted. 

The redevelopment will also include developer subsidised inclusionary housing that will be integrated into the residential component of the development, providing much needed housing opportunities to people who work in the area but can’t afford to live there. There will also be major upgrades to the road surrounding the property. 

A glance at Kwet’s published articles over the past few years provides some clues as to his regard for growth and advancement, particularly in South Africa. His opposition to any form of progress or development is shared by London and Jenkins, who, through their long-standing campaign against the River Club, have revealed their complete indifference when it comes to the welfare of the people of Cape Town, who will be the biggest losers should this world class project be stopped.

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James Tannenberger
James Tannenberger is the trustee and spokesperson for the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust

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