Indigenous land dispute dogs efforts by US e-commerce giant to expand in Africa

2021-08-24 19:22:39

The indigenous people of South Africa are opposing plans by American e-commerce giant Amazon to set up its African headquarters in their ancestral land in Cape Town.

Some descendants of South Africa's indigenous Khoi and San population oppose Amazon’s plan to build its headquarters on their pristine land, according to a report by Reuters.

Rights groups last week filed an interdict at the Western Cape High Court to halt the $284 million development which would include a hotel, residential units and retail offices including Amazon's.

56,000 people have signed a petition opposing the building plans on land, previously home to a golf course, which community leaders say has archaeological value and should be made a heritage site.

The area, at the confluence of two rivers, is the ancestral home to the earliest Khoi and San inhabitants in Southern Africa.

It carries cosmological, spiritual and environmental significance to these indigenous groups.

Over 500 years ago, the Khoi and San population fought off a Portuguese attack in one of the first, and most successful, anti-colonial battles in Africa.

Following the victory against the Portuguese, the Khoi later battled against the Dutch in 1659.

After the Dutch prevailed, it is where colonial administrator Jan Van Riebeek launched a campaign of land dispossession, an event that researchers and activist say laid the bedrock for what would become apartheid white minority rule years later.

It is also where the Dutch East India Company, a colonial mega-corporation made up of Dutch trading companies in the 17th century, first brought in slaves to farm the land from countries including Malaysia, Madagascar and India.

"You can trace the origins of our identity here, it is the footprint of our resistance against colonialism," said Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), a Khoi group opposed to the project.

"This development shows a lack of sensitivity around our heritage," he told Reuters.

Why is land such a hot topic in South Africa?

South Africa is considered one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to the World Bank.

This deep inequality stretches back to 17th century colonialism and slavery, followed by 46 years of racially segregated, white minority rule from 1948 to 1994.

During apartheid rule, Black and mixed race communities were forcibly removed from certain areas to make way for white-only neighbourhoods.

Nearly three decades since the end of white minority rule, large swathes of private land is still under white ownership and redistribution efforts have often ended up in court, with thousands of land claims remaining unresolved.

What happens next?

The case recently submitted to the High Court by the GKKITC and the Observatory Civic Association, which represents a nearby residential community, is set to be heard on August 16.

They are calling for the court to review government’s decision to approve the development, and to issue an interdict to halt any construction until the review is complete.

The Collective has said that they are also interested in pursuing legal action if needed.

"We are not against development,” said Jenkins from GKKITC. “We are against inappropriate development... we want a world heritage site, not a Disney Land.”

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