UCT professor targeted in row over R4bn Liesbeek development

Prof Leslie London has actively opposed the rezoning of an area in Cape Town to facilitate a mixed-use development which includes office space for Amazon

20 May 2021 - 16:56 By bobby jordan
UCT professor Leslie London has been targeted in an anonymous smear campaign linked to a planned massive Liesbeek River Development.
UCT professor Leslie London has been targeted in an anonymous smear campaign linked to a planned massive Liesbeek River Development.
Image: Supplied

Top academic and social justice champion Leslie London has dismissed as “shameful” criticism aimed at him after his objection to a R4bn Cape Town development.

London is chairperson of the Observatory Civic Association, which has actively opposed the development on a heritage green belt area along Cape Town’s Liesbeek River. The city recently rezoned the area to facilitate a mixed-use development which includes office space to be leased by global e-retailer Amazon.

It is not the first time London has been targeted amid mounting opposition against the development, which received government approval despite opposition from Heritage Western Cape. The land has historic significance as a site of struggle between “First Nation” Khoi clans and the earliest European visitors to the Cape.

While some Khoi representatives are in favour of the development, and have been incorporated into the development plan, other groups remain critical.

London, a University of Cape Town public health professor, is a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Centre for the Treatment of Torture Survivors. He said it was the second time he had been defamed by anonymous detractors, apparently linked to the so-called River Club development.

In a statement this week, London said the smear campaign against him appeared to be driven by an entity called the First Nations Collective. The grouping sent defamatory e-mails which branded London as a racist.

“It is truly shameful,” London said.   

One of the e-mails included “a range of unfounded and untrue allegations against the actions and intent of the Observatory Civic Association and its chairperson, who was labelled a racist and paternalistic”.

“It attempted to smear and intimidate me personally by publishing my home address and contact details, and called on UCT to discipline me. The e-mail was widely circulated to a range of individuals within and outside the UCT community,” said London.

An artist's impression of what the completed River Club development in Observatory, Cape Town, will look like when complete.
An artist's impression of what the completed River Club development in Observatory, Cape Town, will look like when complete.
Image: Vivid Architects

“The e-mails have no basis other than the malice of the writer,” he said. “This is clearly a malicious attempt to undermine legitimate opposition — opposition that stems from both Khoi activists and from community groups — through intimidation.”

Last week the developer and landowner, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, said the development was in the best interests of the greater Cape Town community.

“It is perplexing that vicious and vocal nimbyism [the “not in my backyard” mindset] by a handful oppose our plans to transform this degraded private land into a beautiful and publicly accessible treasure that will be enjoyed by all the people of Cape Town,” the company said in a statement published in the Sunday Times.

London said the smear campaign only added to concerns about the 150,000m2 development.

“The only viciousness in this struggle is the viciousness with which supporters of the development are prepared to act against legitimate and broad-based opposition to the developments,” he said.

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