Indigenous South Africans protest Amazon’s new headquarters in continent
US-tech giant Amazon is building its new African headquarters near Cape Town, South Africa, in an area where Indigenous South Africans first fought colonial invaders, and some Indigenous leaders consider the development a desecration of sacred land.
“A concrete block for an Amazon headquarters on this terrain is egregious and obscene,” Tauriq Jenkins, who leads about two dozen Indigenous groups opposed to the development, told the New York Times.
Leaders of Indigenous groups in South Africa are now locked in a vicious internecine fight over the future of a patch of land that lies in “one of the single most historically significant sites in the country,” in the words of the agency charged with protecting heritage sites in Western Cape Province.
Big corporations have “screwed over the First Nations,” Indigenous leader Zenzile Khoisan told the US newspaper.
South Africa’s Indigenous communities were decimated over the centuries through genocide and the racist apartheid policy.
Some politicians have rallied behind the project — the city hailed Amazon choosing Cape Town as “a base of operations on the African continent” as an economic boon. But officials with local environmental and heritage agencies have raised objections.
A judge in the Western Cape High Court is expected to issue a ruling soon on a petition filed by opponents, who argue that construction should be stopped because the development does not comply with heritage laws.
Critics also see a repeat of a familiar cycle: Wealthy, and mostly white, interests get their way, while marginalized communities are left bickering among themselves. A provincial heritage tribunal criticized government leaders for employing “the politics of ‘divide and rule.’”
Determining Indigenous identity is difficult in South Africa. Tens of thousands of years ago, a people now known as the San developed out of prehistoric people, said Michael De Jongh, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of South Africa. The Khoi settled in the country 2,000 years ago. Then, starting about 800 years ago, Black Africans from elsewhere on the continent migrated to South Africa.
Indigenous communities were broken up over many years, so to be Indigenous in South Africa became a matter of identifying with the culture and practicing the traditions, rather than proving one’s ancestry. In recent decades, a global resurgence of interest in Indigenous people helped prompt the formation of myriad groups in South Africa claiming First Nations heritage. Parliament passed a law in 2019 that will allow Indigenous groups to apply for official recognition. Many people have claimed to be First Nations leaders.