Amazon’s plans to build offices across SA look healthier than ever now that developers will be able to build the River Club office park in Observatory Cape Town, at least until January 2023. Once its has completed the Cape head office, it will build numerous other offices around South Africa.
Those opposing the River Club project are waiting for an appeal to be heard to halt its construction on a 15ha parcel of land on where the Khoi and San once lived.
News originally broke in April 2021 that a group called the Liesbeek Properties Trust (LLPT) would create this majestic office development and Amazon would be its anchor tenant. The omni-channel retail giant wants Cape Town to be its African base and wants to attract the best in tech talent as well as other skilled South Africans. Some commentators believe that the River Club which is estimated to be worth R4.6bn upon completion, will be a key part of an “African Silicon Valley”.
Liesbeek Properties Trust is partnered with Zenprop, a highly-regarded developer in Africa and abroad which was founded in 1998. Zenprop was one of the groups behind health and finance group, Discovery’s multi-billion Rand head office located in Sandton, Gauteng. Zenprop also developed Mall of the South and Accenture’s corporate campus in Waterfall, Midrand. Abroad, it has developed properties in the Netherlands, UK, US, Portugal and Germany.
James Tanneberger, CEO of Zenprop, said in 2021 that the development of the River Club would create 5239 construction jobs and more than 800 other jobs when it was operational.
But LLPT’s development was met with anger in July 2021 as a number of groups felt it was problematic that it was being built on what they said was historically sacred land. SA’s Khoi and San, now known as the First Nations, lived hundreds of years ago on the land. These communities fought cattle-raiding Portuguese soldiers in 1510 and, later, Dutch settlers in the 1650s. Different parties also argued that the development would damage the environment in the area.
While the development was supported by eight First Nations groups, who claim to represent the Cape Peninsula Khoi, it was opposed by the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council. The Observatory Civic Association, led by Leslie London, has also campaigned against the development.
The approved development rights for River Club are for a 150,000m² mixed-use development which is being built in phases, based on tenant demand. Should it be completed, it will include offices, retail and residential space and other amenities including many green spaces such as walking and running paths and ecological trails. There will be a culture centre to promote the First Nation’s from the area’s heritage. Zenprop will set aside R38m to rehabilitate two rivers.
The spat has gone on for more than a year as opposition to the development tries to have it abandoned altogether.
The Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council and The Observatory Civic Association also filed a contempt of court application against the developers as they claim they are breaching the ban through continued construction. The contempt case will also be heard in January.
Building had been carried out from September until March when Western Cape deputy judge president, Patricia Goliath interdicted the construction of the River Club in March. She said the developers would need to have new talks with the Khoi and San people and rejected the right to appeal.
But construction resumed in June when the developers filed their appeal.
The tables are in the favour of the LLPT and Zenprop. Controversial Judge President of the Western Cape of the High Court of SA, John Hlophe said the appeal against the ban on the development in Cape Town will be heard by a full bench of the high court in January. He wrote to the concerned parties after The Supreme Court of Appeal had ordered the high court to hear an appeal.
But if the developers can build quickly enough, River Club will be well into its construction phase at the beginning of 2023, with about 12 months of building having taken place.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in July 2022, announced it had taken the step of advising President Cyril Ramaphosa to suspend Hlophe. Hlophe had been found guilty of impeachable gross misconduct for trying to sway Constitutional Court Justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta to rule in favour of former ANC president Jacob Zuma in the 2008 bid to invalidate the Scorpions’ search and seizure warrants. The warrants eventually led authorities to acquire 93 000 pages of evidence that was later used in Zuma’s ongoing corruption prosecution. A litany of allegations have also been made against Hlophe in recent years including claims of sexual and physical assault.