Amazon, Khoisan face off over Cape Town headquarters

Loni Prinsloo – 15 December 2022

On the outskirts of Cape Town, at the base of Table Mountain and set back from a tangle of freeways, the Liesbeek and Black rivers meet in a small stretch of marshland. The 37-acre plot isn’t pristine — it lies next to a railyard and was until recently home to a golf course — but for centuries, this land has been sacred ground for the Khoisan, a Southern African tribe that traces its lineage back more than 100 000 years. In the near future, if all goes to plan, it will be the site of Amazon’s next regional headquarters.

To many local First Nations peoples, news of the project came as an unhappy surprise. Since approval for the e-commerce giant’s R4-billion office complex on the 150 000sq m site was granted, groups aligned with the Khoisan to oppose the project have tried to derail construction. On a near-monthly basis, dozens of protestors have gathered on the steps of the high court in Cape Town with signs reading “Concrete will never be our heritage”. and “No means no”. They’ve filed petitions and lawsuits, appealed to media and lawmakers, and forced Capetonians to reckon with the uncomfortable question of whether they’re willing to prioritise economic development over the fight to recognise indigenous land rights in South Africa…