The River Club development: What is really at stake?

By Leslie London

Leslie London is chairperson of the Observatory Civic Association. He has been a human rights activist in the health sector for many years and has become involved
in civic democracy, more recently helping to found, with other civic activists, the network of Civic Action for Public Participation (CAPP), which is committed to building participatory governance at local municipal level.

There is no doubt that the River Club redevelopment is controversial. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, it is redevelopment of land that was once public land, owned by PRASA but sold off to a private entity at way below market rates in 2015, at a time when State-Owned Enterprises were being gutted by profiteers. Secondly, it is land that everyone recognises as spiritually significant and deeply important for the Khoi people and for South Africa as a whole. It is slated for inclusion in the National Khoisan Liberation route in recognition of its symbolism as a site of first resistance to settler domination. It has also been proposed as a UNESCO heritage site, along with the South African Astronomical Observatory next door, which was founded in 1820. Thirdly, it is a site with an important wetland and a riverine course that requires protection for climate change mitigation.

As a flood plain, it was zoned as Open Space to recognise the importance of maintaining both its heritage and environmental significance. To build in a flood plain is completely contrary to urban planning policies and requires massive and very destructive earthworks to infill the flood plain. Because of the huge cost of such massive construction, the developers have proposed a development of colossal proportions, much higher and denser than any existing urban cluster nearby, and they are proudly declaring that this will be the South African headquarters of the international Amazon corporation.

The developers specifically discounted any alternatives that were less dense and less imposing on the environment because they would not make sufficient profit to meet the massive capital investment.