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Jeff Bezos blasted in Cape Town development protest

Protesters wearing Jeffery Bezos masks railed against a planned office precinct development that will house Amazon's African headquarters.

26 November 2021 - 18:36
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Protesters wearing Jeff Bezos masks stood on a Cape Town street corner on Friday and railed against a planned office precinct development that will house the African headquarters of retail giant Amazon.

Bezos, founder of Amazon and the second-richest man in the world, according to the Forbes Rich List, has been targeted by opponents of the River Club development who say his link to the project contradicts his environmentally friendly public persona.

Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

The American entrepreneur, who has stated he wishes to get humans to Mars, this month pledged $2bn for restoring natural landscapes and natural food systems via his Bezos Earth Fund. But his African headquarters is set to be located on a wetland and provincial heritage site, much to the dismay of various civil society groups who have challenged the development in the Cape Town high court.

Friday’s protest near the site of the new development, on the banks of the Liesbeek River, also formed part of a worldwide “Make Amazon Pay” protest led by an activist group opposed to Amazon’s labour policies.

Observatory Civic Association chairperson Leslie London, a prominent University of Cape Town public health professor, said the protest was aimed at persuading Amazon to choose a different office site.

Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

“We are allied with other groups who believe that Amazon is not behaving in a socially responsible way,” London told TimesLIVE. “We believe Amazon could have chosen differently, and can still choose differently.”

If successful in court, SA property developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust could be compelled to restore the land to the condition it was in at the time of purchase.

Tauriq Jenkins, a Khoi traditional leader and AIXARRA Restorative Justice Forum chairperson, said Bezos and the SA government were turning a blind eye to the desecration of a Khoi sacred site.

Amazon Warrior ship in Cape Town harbour.
Amazon Warrior ship in Cape Town harbour.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

“Today we are objecting against the bulldozers which are on site,” Jenkins said at the protest, against a backdrop of cranes and cement trucks servicing the development site, which used to be state land.

“As each day goes by there is permanent and irreparable damage happening on that ground,” Jenkins said.

James Tannenberger, trustee and spokesperson for the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust, has since said that while London and Jenkins said the property was now ecologically sensitive, the privately owned property, which previously housed a driving range, mashie golf course and tarmac parking lot, is severely degraded, and the property is not a wetland.

“As part of the redevelopment of the property and surrounds, R38m will be allocated to rehabilitate the riverine corridor, including replacing the concrete canal in which the river flows along the property into a beautiful naturalised riverine environment that will provide a vastly improved habitat for a range of species.

“Furthermore, the property is not a provincial heritage site. To celebrate the intangible heritage of the broader Two Rivers area, of which the River Club forms 5%, the project will include a number of features focused on celebrating the rich heritage and history of the First Nations, including a heritage, cultural and media centre.

“The redevelopment will also include offices, retail space, housing, of which 20% will be developer-subsidised inclusionary housing, and over 60% of the redevelopment will also be retained as open space that will be accessible to the public. It is therefore clear that the project will be much more than one tenant, namely Amazon.

“The basic assessment for the redevelopment affirms that the project, including the rehabilitation of the Liesbeek River, will not impact  negatively on climate change. The green principles practices being applied in the construction and building phases make this one of the few sustainable green developments in the country,” said Tannenberger.

Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

He added that, as the first respondent in the legal matter, the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust will oppose the court action that has been launched by the OCA and the GKKTC.

“The development has all rights and permits in place, which is why construction is under way.

“The LLPT remains committed to delivering a development that will create over 6,000 direct jobs and presents many other exciting opportunities for the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape,” said Tannenberger.

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect comment from James Tannenberger of the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust.

Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Protesters outside the Black River park development by Amazon.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

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