PRESS STATEMENT 23 October 2020

Today, Ndifuna Ukwazi lodged an appeal against the unanimous approval by the City of Cape Town Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) of the fiercely contested River Club development in Observatory. The present owners and developer of the land, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Pty (Ltd), ​bought the land from a parastatal institution – Transnet – in 1998. ​They intend building a 150 000m2 development, comprising retail, offices, residential (including a small amount of inclusionary housing), a hotel and a place of instruction.

The River Club site has undisputable historical-political significance as a result of its complex history​. It is one of the first instances of colonial conquest and dispossession, as well as one of the first sites of Khoi and San resistance to colonial forces. The site also highlights how the history of colonial dispossession remains centrally important to the land question in South Africa today. As farming land, the River Club site was used by European conquerors to exclude, displace and thereby disempower indigenious Khoi and San people from access to the land. These communities were displaced from access to the best grazing land in the banks of the Liesbeek and Black Rivers. They fought and struggled to access this site, and despite various successful instances of resistance, were eventually defeated.​ The area is also known for early Khoi and San battles against Francisco D’Almeida, the Portuguese Viceroy of India in 1515 and with the Dutch from 1657 as Jan van Riebeek started to establish grazing and farming fields for the ‘freeburghers’ in the Liesbeek Valley, which was considered ‘the best and most well-watered land of the Cape Peninsula.’

The NDIFUNA UKWAZI statement above incorrectly reported the date of the battle in which Almeida was killed. Please see below
Almeida sailed for Portugal in December 1509 and reached Table Bay near the Cape of Good Hope, where the Garcia, Belém and Santa Cruz dropped anchor late February 1510, to replenish water. There they encountered the local indigenous people, the Goringhaiqua Khoikhoi clan.[5] After friendly trade with the Khoikhoi some of the crew visited their nearby village, situated in modern-day Observatory where they tried to steal some of the locals’ cattle. Almeida allowed his captains Pedro and Jorge Barreto to return to the village on the morning of 1 March 1510.[6] The village’s cattle herd was raided with the loss of one man, while Almeida awaited his men some distance from the beach. As the flagship’s master Diogo d’Unhos moved the landing boats to the watering point, the Portuguese were left without a retreat. The Khoikhoi sensed the opportunity for an attack, during which Almeida and 64 of his men perished, including 11 of his captains. Almeida’s body was recovered the same afternoon and buried on the shore front of the current Cape Town.[7] An archivist, Nicolaas Vergunst, suggested in a 2011 book that de Almeida was the victim of a plot by his own men, who intentionally cut off his retreat after the planned provocation of the Khoikhoi.[8]
You can find the full article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Almeida

South Africa’s history of colonial conquest, dispossession, slavery and institutionalised racism can be traced back to the land struggles stemming from this site. The heritage of all South Africans can be traced back to the injustices perpetrated from these struggles. It does not matter if you are a descendent of a colonist, colonised or enslaved person, we are yet to escape a system where we are not defined by our race and class.

Knowing that the River Club redevelopment would be contentious, the developer sought to negotiate a private deal with a single group of Khoi and San people (the First Nations Collective led by the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council), in the process marginalising the wide range of other Khoi and San representative groups who fiercely oppose this proposed approach.

The developer and one Khoi San group brokered a private deal for the inclusion of various cultural place-making representations including: a heritage cultural and media centre; the inclusion of First Nations symbols in the landscaping, architectural iconography and educational signage in the open space; an indigenous medicinal garden; a heritage-eco trail; and a garden amphitheatre.

Ndifuna Ukwazi’s appeal questions whether these private negotiations should not have been open to the public. The struggle of landlessness and inequality (and a deep desire to be liberated from these struggles) is a common experience of the majority of South Africans and not isolated to one particular grouping. The manner in which this manifests and resurfaces in private land development cannot be dealt with behind closed doors.

Ndifuna Ukwazi therefore calls on the Mayor as the Appeal Authority in development approvals to re-open the public participation process so that everyone can comment on the revised proposals for the River Club. The development of this historic site is culturally sensitive and needs further public scrutiny.

● Read Ndifuna Ukwazi’s full appeal here: ​https://jmp.sh/i4jzA8A

For comment:

● Zacharia Mashele, Ndifuna Ukwazi Communications Officer: 071 714 0200 /

[email protected]
● Jonty Cogger, Attorney, Ndifuna Ukwazi: 083 4422 136 / ​[email protected]