Feedback from our readers

Dear OCA,

I am a resident of Observatory and do not agree with your campaign. I have followed your objections for several years and it was only in the final stage of the objections did you bring to the front the heritage and first nation issues as the primary issue.

In principal your argument is that this land belongs to a first nation people and should be preserved as a world heritage site. Thus a land claim.

Firstly, the OCA has until now never shown an interest in first nation people till the development took place or in this land being returned to first nation people while it was privately owned by the mashie golf course.

Secondly this is private land and making an objection to development on a land claim basis would then open the OCA up to persuing any development in Observatory or Cape Town for that matter on a first nation basis. Also, why are you not making the representation for first nation people to claim private property in Observatory, as it ultimately belonged to first nation people?

I find the use of the first nation grievance disingenuous and ultimately for the purpose of anti-development from a historically privileged class of Observatory residents.

The OCA does not have my consent to persue this anti-development agenda on a first nation basis.

Dr Daniel Isherwood

OCA chair’s response:

Dear Dr Daniel Isherwood

Thanks for raising this important question. The OCA’s opposition to the development at the River Club site has always been based on three grounds and remains as such:

  1. The site is a floodplain and green space and intended to be retained as part of an urban park because of its environmental sensitivity, its wetlands, its biodiversity, the risk of flooding and the need for climate resilience in an increasingly dense City. Our affidavits for the review set this out in detail in Leslie London’s affidavit at paragraphs 237 to 281, and in the expert affidavit by Dr Mike Mentis. Our concerns regarding threats to biodiversity, flooding and climate impacts are repeated in the appeal by the appeal by the City of Cape Town’s own department for Environmental Management against the Environmental Authorisation and by Dr Kevin Winter of the Future Water Institute at UCT in lamenting the siege being inflicted on the Liesbeek River.
  2. The site is an important one for Khoi and San heritage. This is not disputed by any of the parties in the case, nor by the developer’s own consultant (the footage of which you can view here at about 45 seconds of the recording of the site visit made by the Heritage Appeal Tribunal in 2018 during the appeal against provisional protection.) Even the Mayor of the City of Cape Town recognised in his 2021 affidavit opposing the development recognised that the site is sacred.
  3. The decision making regarding the site by the City and the Province was deeply flawed an undemocratic. This is set out in paragraphs 234 to 335 of Leslie London’s affidavit, in the expert affidavit by Emeritus Professor David Dewar and in an open letter by the former head of Urban Planning at UCT, the late Vanessa Watson, attached here.

It is completely incorrect to say that the OCA only brought up the heritage concerns in the final stage of objections. In our very first submission in 2016 in response to the Draft Scoping Report, the OCA noted as one of its inputs the importance of the site for indigenous history and our expectation that the Environmental Impact Assessment would deal with that matter sensitively. As you know, that did not happen.

In 2018, when Heritage Western Cape issued a provisional protection order over the River Club, the OCA participated, alongside numerous First Nation groups and environmental NGOs, is discussions on the preservation of the intangible heritage of the site – which HWC recognised as largely linked to the Green Open Space character of the site. In our subsequent submissions, objections and appeals, the matters of heritage, flooding, climate change resilience, urban planning and biodiversity have all been present. In other words, the OCA has been completely consistent in highlighting heritage from the start, as one of many concerns we have regarding this development.

The fact that it seems to appear that heritage is ‘the primary issue’ is the result of (a) the fact that violations of rights to heritage and culture represent the immediate threat of irreparable harm that are the basis for urgency as recognised by Judge Goliath; and (b) the vicious backlash against Khoi co-applicants and on the OCA has focused on heritage matters – so our response has had to clarify this gross misinformation.

In fact, in June this year, the OCA and GKKITC submitted our supplementary affidavits for the High Court review where the full range of environmental, planning and heritage decisions will be tested under PAJA but it is the respondents have not submitted their papers. So, they are delaying the full consideration of these matters, and are desperately trying to sabotage the case on heritage grounds. That is why it is appears that “heritage and first nation issues” are the “primary issue.” Heritage, environmental and planning considerations are all linked but we are being prevented from ventilating these in court. And we believe this is a deliberate strategy on the part of the developers to mischaracterise our campaign.

To correct your comments:

  1. Our argument never makes this a land claim. We do not say that the land belongs to one or other first nation groups, but to South Africa as a whole as a national heritage site (which is why SAHRA is busy grading this site for national heritage status). This is a site which all South Africans should value and enjoy as a place of healing. Asking that this be recognised as a national heritage site is not a land claim. In contrast, it is actually the First Nations Collective, who seek to make this an ‘enclave’ (see paragraph 8.4 of the FNC’s responding affidavit) who characterise this as a ‘right of return to the land’ in an exclusive manner’. Please read their court papers to see how they characterise their right to the site versus how the Goringhaicona and the OCA characterise the site.
  2. It is incorrect to assert the OCA has never shown an interest in first nations people. At the very first opportunity for public participation in 2016, the OCA has noted the importance of the site for heritage. That is a golf course is the result of the business decisions of the LLP Pty and the City of Cape Town who approved such a development without any public participation many years ago. The Western Cape government recognised the OCA as the most active conservation body in 2017 with a public award. So, there is no basis to imply that the OCA has never shown an interest in matters to do with the first nations people. That is a narrative being put out by the developers and their supporters.
  3. The idea that asserting national heritage status of a particularly piece of land, which is undeniably of high heritage significance at the confluence of the Black and Liesbeek Rivers (read the expert affidavit of Jim Hallinen, a heritage expert formerly with the City of Cape Town) would open the door to land claims across Observatory is illogical. We are not disputing ownership, simply asserting that the land must be managed consistent with the National Heritage Resources Act. Inasmuch as Observatory property owners can’t renovate homes willy-nilly without getting heritage approvals, that Act already applies across Observatory. There is no basis for this spurious argument that our campaign means that private property in Observatory should be claimed. This is what the malicious, illegal and defamatory website argues. And it is unfortunate to repeat such a fiction.
  4. This is not an ‘anti-development’ campaign, but a campaign for a site to be treated according to existing policies so that any development on the site is done consistent with proper planning principles. A careful reading of all the documents will make that clear. The Phase I heritage assessment for the River Club made recommendations for how the development at the site could be while respecting the intangible heritage of the site, but the developers simply ignored that and found consultants who were willing to justify the a priori huge bulk proposed for the site.

It is very unfortunate that these false arguments are being put forward at a time when there is a malicious campaign is being waged against us because we are calling out powerful entities. This campgign uses many of the same false arguments in a devious way. The OCA is not disingenuous or using first nation grievances (which are real – as seen in the court papers). The privilege being protected here is of rich developers who are able to build on an environmentally sensitive floodplain of critical heritage importance to make millions at the expense of the environment and heritage. And they are doing so in flagrant violation of the law.


Former OCA chair Carolyn Neville
In our last newsletter we published a letter signed by four previous OCA chairs with the comment that it was a strong letter of support for the current OCA’s position on the River Club. One of those former chairs, Carolyn Neville, wrote to us to point out that the letter was in fact “decrying the current slander and defamation of certain individuals as a tactic of opposition. It was a letter encouraging people not to engage in such activities, but to rather join the organisation and have their voices heard in a reasonable and considered manner.”

We apologise for this misrepresentation and publish the letter here again: READ MORE


Former OCA chair Bovaine MacNab
As some of you may know, the OCA was recently publicly attacked by another former OCA chair – Bovaine Macnab – for the stance it has taken on the River Club development. In the interest of complete openness we publish current OCA chair Leslie London’s analysis of this and other attacks on the OCA together with the full set of correspondence between Leslie London and Bovaine Macnab