/ 13 February 2024

Response to ‘Pitfalls of mallification in our cities’

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File photo: Supporters of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council at the Western Cape High Court on July 27, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The opinion piece, “Pitfalls of the ‘mallification’ of our cities” (Mail & Guardian, 3 February 2024), is sadly the latest edition in a years-long campaign of misinformation peddled about the River Club. 

It is devoid of fact, rather hiding malicious and defamatory untruths and distortions under the cloak of “opinion”. 

But opinion is not fact, and it does not change that over the course of this smear campaign against the development the facts have been thoroughly adjudicated by the courts with a full bench judgment of the Western Cape high court finding that the main opposition to the development was based on fraudulent claims by Tauriq Jenkins and his co-opponents to the development failed to make out a case. In the words of the judges, “The founding papers did not make out a case of inadequate public participation, let alone a prima facie case on review.”

The developer, the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust (LLPT), and its trustees do not litigate through the media. The LLPT will deal with Jenkins’ present rescission application in its opposing affidavits to be filed in due course.

That being said, we again reiterate that the LLPT has always acted professionally and ethically and with respect for all First Nations individuals and groups’ own agency. Any suggestion of impropriety is categorically denied.

The issues of internal power struggles and factionalism within the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC) and with Jenkins should be resolved internally by the group and without recourse to needless and hopeless litigation such as the present application launched by Jenkins.

Despite the LLPT having made the facts of the development, which are pertinent for the claims the author of the piece, Jared Sacks makes, widely available in response to previous misinformation that has been peddled in the media, opinions such as these continue to be published.  

It is, for instance, indisputable that Jody Aufrichtig is not the site’s developer. While Aufrichtig has a minority interest in the development, the author distorts facts (as well as making up claims) as a way to build the bizarre and out of touch narrative conveyed in the piece.

The entire thrust of Sacks’s argument is that some great public good, along with thriving local businesses, are being wiped out by the development of an imagined mega mall, using the term developer as if it connotes some deeply negative meaning.

The truth is, the River Club development site used to be a golf driving range and member only, nine-hole mashie golf course. It was built on top of an old landfill site, covered with alien grass and had a tarmac parking area. 

Similarly, the claim that the site was purchased by LLPT for R12 million is again a distortion to fit the narrative and false. Transnet disposed of the rights to use and develop the site in the 1990 (holding only the bare dominium), many years before the LLPT acquired the site in 2015 and the right to develop the site from the then golf club owner, not Transnet.

The LLPT is unequivocally proud to be the developer of the River Club. It has already created thousands of jobs and did so during perhaps the toughest economic times in recent memory when the pandemic ravaged our local economy. As more phases of the development are completed, the River Club is going to create even more job opportunities within walking distance of Observatory residents, in multiple sectors.

The site, which was environmentally degraded, including the adjacent riverine system, is being rehabilitated as part of the project. The Liesbeek canal is being widened and restored to a natural riverine state. This entails the removal of the concrete canal walls, the widening of the riverbanks, and the planting of specific indigenous vegetation that will improve the ecological environment and create a habitat for the return of endemic fauna to the site.

This is no mega mall. The development will be made up primarily of residential and commercial (office) space. Of this, the retail centre makes up less than 10% of this space and will provide local businesses, new and existing, with a vibrant and inclusive space to operate from. 

To put this into further perspective, the precinct will ultimately comprise large swathes of open landscaped spaces, with an Eco Park and jogging and cycling paths of about 6km around the perimeter and in the development. These amenities won’t be for members only. They will be free to the public who will benefit from access to the safe, beautiful and rehabilitated natural amenities.

These spaces will also pay homage to Cape Town’s heritage, commemorating the history and culture of the First Nations. This will be achieved by the establishment of a Media and Cultural Heritage Centre in the development, operated by the First Nations.

An indigenous garden will be planted with medicinal and culturally relevant plants. The landscape will also incorporate culturally important First Nations symbols and iconography, including the naming of internal roads inspired by people or symbols central to the First Nations narrative. This will be the first such development to recognise the history of Cape Town as it intersects with the First Nations groupings in this way.

Beyond these direct benefits, the redevelopment will also provide a much broader benefit to Cape Town through developer subsidised infrastructure upgrades. The River Club is located between the N1 and N2 highways. As part of the development of the site, Berkley Road is being extended to Liesbeek Parkway and this includes the construction of a new bridge over the Black River, which is well under way. 

This links the development and Observatory directly to the M5, which means quick access to both major highways. This, coupled with the widening and upgrading of Liesbeek Parkway, will have a significant effect on traffic congestion. In addition, the precinct will be serviced by the MyCiti bus service and is near train stations.

It is easy to build a narrative from afar when facts don’t matter. The LLPT remains proud of what the redevelopment of the River Club site has and is set to achieve. If you take the time to uncover the real facts, they speak for themselves — as have the courts in this regard. This development will benefit the city’s people, its environment and provide first of its kind cultural recognition.

James Tannenberger is a trustee and spokesperson for the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT).