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Court battle over River Club development, which will house Amazon’s African HQ, continues

Liesbeek Action Campaign held a picket outside the Western Cape High Court as the legal battle over the River Club development was heard. LAC seeks a review by the high court of decisions made by multiple parties which led to the start of construction work on the development. Picture: Supplied

Liesbeek Action Campaign held a picket outside the Western Cape High Court as the legal battle over the River Club development was heard. LAC seeks a review by the high court of decisions made by multiple parties which led to the start of construction work on the development. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 21, 2022

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Cape Town - The legal fight between the Liesbeek Action Campaign (LAC) and those responsible for the R4.6 billion River Club development will be heard in court today after the LAC filed an interdict to halt construction on the site which will house Amazon’s African headquarters.

The applicants in the case are the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council which filed for an urgent interdict last year and seek a high court review of the decisions taken by multiple parties.

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The respondents are the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), the City, the provincial government, and the Western Cape First Nations Collective which opposed the application.

In the three-day battle, which started on Wednesday and will conclude today, the heritage significance of the site has been contested as the most pertinent point.

LAC advocate Alan Dodson SC argued that the site holds all-important significance for the heritage of first nations and indigenous groups in South Africa.

“The very nature of the sustainable use of the land and the nature by first nations people means that their heritage resources will predominantly be intangible once associated with the land,” he said.

The thrust of the applicants’ argument was that the heritage impact assessment (HIA) and authorisation of the development was not compliant with the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) and the National Heritage Resources Act.

In their submissions, the applicants sought a high court review of decisions made by the provincial government for the development to go ahead on the grounds that they were unlawful.

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They argued that the decision to change direction in terms of the HIA must be set aside. Initially, the provincial department of environmental affairs called for a review of the HIA but later said the requirements for an impact assessment were only a recommendation.

During proceedings it came to light that first nation groups were divided over the development, with some for it and others against it.

Dodson’s submission was that the consultation process was “flawed”, noting that the consultation was a deliberate exclusionary process.

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In response, LLPT’s advocate Sean Rosenberg made the submission that the applicants failed to demonstrate in what respects cultural heritage had not been properly mapped, identified and assessed.

He also said the case presented by Dodson was different from the initial application, with a number of issues that did not mention the evidence that showed the recommendations made with regards to the Nema were acted upon by the LLPT.

LLPT maintains that, “The applicants have also tried to mask the fact that not only will the redevelopment of the private, under-utilised and degraded property bring enormous benefit to the people of Cape Town, it also has the support of the majority of First Nations leaders and groups in the Western Cape (known as the Western Cape First Nations Collective) including the Gorinhaiqua – the recognised historical custodians of the Two Rivers landscape of which the River Club property forms 5%.”

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The LAC held a number of demonstrations this week, including a spiritual blessing ceremony and demonstration outside court.

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Cape Argus

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