In Cape Town, an Indigenous Win on 'Obscene' Amazon Project

Court temporarily halts retail giant's building of African HQ in Cape Town
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2022 6:37 AM CDT
In Cape Town, an Indigenous Win on 'Obscene' Amazon Project
A protestor on Nov. 12, 2021, with a sign calling for a stop to tech giant Amazon building its African headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa.   (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

Thousands of years ago, South Africa's earliest dwellers roamed the land. Now, as Amazon tries to build its new African headquarters there, it's facing a battle from Indigenous locals who say the company shouldn't be building on what they say is sacred land—and last week, they notched a win, if only a temporary one. Reuters reports that on Friday, the Western Cape Division of the nation's High Court ruled that construction must stop at the Cape Town site, with Judge Patricia Goliath noting in her decision that "the fundamental right to culture and heritage of Indigenous groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations Peoples, are under threat."

Per Bloomberg, Goliath added in her ruling that developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust must undertake "meaningful engagement and consultation" with Indigenous locals who are raising concerns before building can continue at the $300 million, 37-acre River Club development, which would also include retail offices, homes, and a hotel. The building site lies at the point where the Liesbeek and Black rivers converge, which Indigenous groups argue is a sacred spot, and one that environmental officials say is also in danger of flooding. "A concrete block for an Amazon headquarters on this terrain is egregious and obscene," says Tauriq Jenkins, who's the frontman for about two dozen Indigenous groups who don't want the project on that land.

Per the New York Times, the scenario is a bit more complicated than "Indigenous versus Amazon," as some Indigenous leaders are on the side of the retail giant, which has argued that the project will create thousands of jobs in the region and help South Africa's economy recover after COVID. "It is now often unclear who has the authority to speak for Indigenous people," the paper notes, detailing infighting among various representatives. Still, the court is standing firm, at least until more consultation takes place. "The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural, and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples," she wrote in her ruling. LLPT notes it's "deeply disappointed" in Goliath's ruling and is looking into the next legal steps it can take, per Bloomberg. (More Amazon stories.)

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