OCA’s open letter to McKenzie Scott – former wife of Jeff Bezos and the third richest woman in the world with a net worth of $53 billion 04 May 2021

Dear Ms Mckenzie Scott

I write to you as the chair of the Observatory Civic Association, a small community civic in Cape Town, South Africa that prides itself on active citizenry towards civic democracy.

Our Civic, which has a long history of community activism, is currently partnered with more than60 First Nation Khoi Indigenous organisations, NGOs and other Civic Associations to ensure that there is heritage protection of an environmentally sensitive and cultural significant piece of land between the Black and Liesbeek Rivers, known as the Two Rivers Urban Park. The River Club is a small part of the Two Rivers Urban Park on which private developers have proposed to develop a massive, dense mixed-use complex which will house the Africa Headquarters of Amazon. That Amazon wish to be associated with a development that is on a sacred floodplain, and which has met fierce opposition from Khoi first nation leaders (whilst finding some willing to support the development) as well as infill a flood plain in ways that contradict existing Climate Change resilience policies of the City, must surely be of deep concern to anyone who believes in a world where environmental protection, justice and heritage, particularly for First Nation groups, should be adequately considered in development decisions. I attach some information on a recent event on South African’s anniversary of our transition to democracy (recognised as Freedom Day) where a diverse group of organisation walked to commemorate Khoi history and oppose the River Club development.

We believe the entire process in which this development has unfolded has been problematic, and City Planners and other authorities have ignored key reasons why you should not be building 150 000 square metres of concrete on a sacred floodplain. The competent Heritage Authority for the Province turned down the application because the Heritage Impact Assessment failed to identify heritage indicators and simply retrofitted its HIA to allow this dense development without recognising the intangible heritage of this area – and area where the Khoi defeated the Portuguese colonial expedition more than 500 years ago, and where the first wars of resistance against Dutch land dispossession took place. The Open Space character of the site was identified as key to the intangible heritage of this site; yet the Environmental Authorities rode roughshod over this neglect of intangible heritage. As a result, the environmental authorisation for the development was described as illegal by the Heritage Authorities. Similarly, the environmental impacts did not include a Climate Change study and sought to minimise the impact of the development on flooding of the nearby area. The City’s own heritage and Environmental Management experts did not support the development, yet the City authorities were willing to approve the development based on promised economic developments.

It is Amazon that is at the centre of this travesty. It’s 44m high buildings will dwarf any nearby structures including the South Africa Astronomical Observatory, a National Heritage Resources slated for nomination as a UNESCO Heritage site. The area is part of the National Khoisan Liberation Route, a presidential project which will affirm Khoi history and heritage. But once the excavations happen and the infill of land by 3 metres of additional soil is completed, along with the obliteration of the original course of the Liesbeek River, there will be no going back and Amazon will sit astride this destruction.  As stated by Tauriq Jenkins, the High Commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoen-Khoi Indigenous Council, the development is “poison to our sacred confluence, poison to our fish, birdlife and animals, poison to the soul of this space. We say no to the concrete on the floodplain, the infill of the river, to the loss of memory to a mall with hotels. We will not bid the kingfisher farewell.:

For that reason, the OCA and its partner organisations will be taking the matter to court, to turn back the permitting decisions.

Although we have written to Jeff Bezos twice to appeal to him, we have never received any reply. We can’t say that whether he is misinformed or unaware but we have tried out best to alert Amazon that this is not the site to destroy in order to create another mega-office complex cum commercial campus with 2000 parking bays. We appeal to you to intervene to bring Amazon to its senses.

And if you wish to assist our struggle for justice in the courts, we will welcome your financial assistance.

There is more information at the Observatory Civic Association Website and our petition with multiple updates. There has also been a vigorous debate in the press (for example, the decision being a slap in the face of indigenous people) and various opinion pieces, including the one by aKhoi defender of the development whose Khoi group has been promised custodianship of part of the precinct and two responses in the journal New Agenda on pages 31 to 41 rebutting such misinformation.

We look forward to hearing back from you.

Yours sincerely,
Leslie London – OCA Chairperson