Jeff Bezos is neither an altruist nor a socialist, and Amazon’s River Club venture is not about job creation

Jeff Rudin, 6 September 2021

It should come as no surprise that those who would turn the River Club into Amazon’s African headquarters do so with jobs as bait. Life for most South Africans has always been cheap. Covid-19 and the continuation of self-imposed austerity economics designed to attract foreign investment has made those lives considerably cheaper.

Amazon, the Covid-19-engorged corporate behemoth from the US, is best known for the wealth of its owner and the poverty of its workers. It wants to turn the R4.6-billion mixed-use River Club development in Cape Town into its African headquarters. Everyone seems delighted – except for the neighbours (and the Khoi community for whom the land is sacred).

Making this everyday story different are the neighbours: they include a sufficient number of middle-class people with the commensurate self-confidence to dare to challenge this major undertaking. Their detractors accuse them of selfishness, of putting environmental considerations above the desperate need for jobs in a country blighted by unemployment. Cape Town has more than enough people desperate to do any work for almost nothing and under almost any conditions.

Is this a replay of divide and rule, of setting jobs against the environment as though the two are mutually exclusive? If so, who are the beneficiaries? Using the lure of jobs to sanitise “development” is hardly new. Nor is the paradoxical mix of idle capital and idle workers unique to South Africa. Getting out of this mess requires a better understanding of how we got into it in the first place…

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