A legal battle is looming over plans to build Amazon’s multi-million-dollar African headquarters on land cherished by South Africa’s indigenous Khoi San people.
Amazon is setting up its African HQ in Cape Town — a project with the promise of thousands of jobs in a country where unemployment is cripplingly high.
City authorities last month approved the construction of a nine-storey business and residential complex on a greenfield site that will be anchored by Amazon.
Its offices will provide total floor space of 70,000 square metres (7.5 million feet) — equivalent to almost 10 football pitches.
But some of the country’s first inhabitants, the Khoi Khoi and San — whose presence in the southern tip of the continent has been dated by archaeologists to thousands of years — say the project desecrates ancestral land.
They say it lies on a battlefield in which the Khoi defended the territory from Portuguese colonisers in 1510.
“Our heritage will be completely wiped out,” paramount chief Aran Goringhaicona told AFP this week. “There is so much spiritual significance to this place.”
He represents the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoi Indigenous Traditional Council, which is among the indigenous, environmental and community activists contesting the scheme.
Led by a neighbourhood group, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), they wrote to the developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) this week stating their intention to appeal the project in the courts.
Construction of the four-billion-rand ($283 million / 234 million euro) complex is due to start little more than a month from now.
The group is also questioning environmental approvals for the riverside site, said OCA chair Leslie London.
Cape Town is already struggling with episodes of severe floods and drought — a risk that could be amplified when climate change goes into higher gear, London argued.
City authorities say the impact on floods is “minimal” and the site will be built up above the 100-year flood
Amazon, which has been operating in South Africa for 15 years, declined to comment on the development.