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Cape Town, South Africa

The Environmental Impact of Amazon's Development in Cape Town, South Africa — Part Two

Part two explains the argument against the development, and highlights the opinions of Indigenous activists. Read part one here. 

A case against development

The Liesbeek Action Campaign (LAC) is an all-inclusive campaign fighting to preserve the Liesbeek Black River Confluence. 

The LAC’s stance is that the confluence of the Liesbeek and Black Rivers is sacred land. It is a vital green corridor of Cape Town, and houses sensitive indigenous flora and fauna. It is also a site of memory for the First Nation community and South Africa — the site has been associated with Indigenous resistance since 1510. The Indigenous Khoi defeated Portuguese colonists in the Battle of 1510, saving South Africa from becoming a Portuguese colony. 

TRUP has been acknowledged as a vital national resource by Heritage Western Cape. The full TRUP LSDF (Local Spatial Development Framework) can be found here

The LAC cited the City of Cape Town’s own Environmental Department opposing the redevelopment, as reasons to preserve the indigenous flora and fauna. The LAC opposed the development that proposed to raise the land 3.5 meters above natural ground, leaving more than 10% of the site in a semi-natural state. This is in contravention of local, provincial, and national policy and spatial plans as outlined in the Environmental Management Framework approved by the Western Cape Environmental Affairs and Development Plan. 

The appeal report highlighted important factors not yet considered like climate change impacts and resilience. The LAC is supported by numerous civil society and environmental organizations, experts, heritage and rights organizations, and Indigenous councils and organizations.  

The Observatory Civic Association (OCA) is a non-profit organization that represents the Observatory community, the neighborhood where the redevelopment is taking place. The OCA partnered with over 60 Indigenous groups, environmental NGOs, and civic associations in opposing the redevelopment. The OCA has campaigned extensively for heritage preservation of the site, and spoken up about the evidence of adverse impacts of the development on the environment. 

Many intersections 

The unemployment rate in South Africa is at 33.9%. The pandemic worsened employment opportunities as many industries were affected adversely. The historical effects of colonialism and apartheid have placed a large part of our population below the breadline. The redevelopment will create thousands of jobs. It will also rehabilitate the ecosystem of the area. The developers are also providing an opportunity for the First Nations people to memorialize the heritage of the site. 

“The context of this site and to all the sites around Cape Town is that it highlights the system. The issue around Indigenous leadership and what we need and what we don’t need. We need leadership that is practical, observant, and essential. Leadership that addresses poverty and homelessness, and upholds the rights of the Indigenous people. The Indigenous movement is not united and upholds systems we want to overthrow like patriarchy,” explained Lucy Campbell, 65, Indigenous historian and activist and co-founder of OppieYaart, an urban food justice project in Elsies River, Cape Town.

Others think that the heritage of the site is also an important factor in addressing and redressing injustices stemming from colonialism and apartheid. According to Jonathan Fortuin, 27, Indigenous youth activist, the Amazon development feeds into the erasure of Indigenous lives in South Africa. The land is more than a piece of land, it is ‘a beacon of hope’, he said.

“The first problem I have is that capitalism has been at the center of oppression forever. I see an erasure of an essential part of history of the Khoi and San people. The erasure impacts us in various ways as we have been fighting for our collective identity. To be seen, felt and heard. So, with the Liesbeeck development we know it is considered indigenous land. Land that belongs to the Khoi and San folk,” Fortuin said.

Other important factors include climate change and the densification of the area. The opposing sides and those in support of the redevelopment have valid concerns and arguments. The reality is that the redevelopment is approved. The only question that needs to be answered now is, will the redevelopment affect the fragility of the ecosystem of the site that has been heavily urbanized through the years? Will it be tested as the redevelopment continues? If it doesn’t, what would restoration look like? There is no telling what could happen. 

Editor’s note:  Permission to access the development site for photographs was challenging.  At the time of researching this article the matter was being heard in court.


This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published by The Daily Vox on January 18, 2023. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: The Amazon headquarters under construction in Cape Town / Credit: The Daily Vox.