Update from OCA chair

Dear OCA members

I am writing to update you on the situation with respect to the re-development at the River Club.

1. As you know, the Observatory Civic Association represented by myself and the Goringhaicona Khoi-Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council represented by Tauriq Jenkins lodged papers on the 2nd August seeking (a) a High Court review of the Rezoning and Environmental Authorisation decisions and the rejection of our appeals on both decisions, respectively by the City of Cape Town and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP); (b) an interdict to the building on site.

2. The applicants are myself, representing the Observatory Civic Association and Tauriq Jenkins, representing the Goringhaicona Khoi-Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council. We submitted supporting expert affidavits from Bridget O’ Donoghue, a heritage consultant (and whose baseline HIA for the LLPT proposed clear limits on what could be built based on recognition of the Open Space as an essential element of the intangible heritage of the site) and from Deidre Solani-Prins, an expert in intangible heritage who mapped out how one should have gone about assessing the intangible heritage of the site.

3. The respondents had to be given opportunity to reply to the court papers which they did after three weeks. In the course of this, the First Nations Collective have joined the defendants, so are now in court firmly on the side of the LLPT, DEAP and the City of Cape Town – essentially in the camp of Amazon. Heritage Western Cape are also listed as a respondent but one from whom we seek no relief. They have not opposed our court action.

4. The arguments presented by the respondents essentially boil down to the following: (a) there is no heritage harm; (b) in any event, they have Khoi support it (and those Khoi who don’t support the development are portrayed as miscreants whom the FNC and LLPT try to denigrate and discredit); (c) the development will be a nett benefit for environmental protections and (d) the economic benefits are so overwhelming that even if (a) to (c) were not the case, it would be justified on financial and development grounds alone.

5. Needless to say, there is no basis for any of these arguments and we will show as such in court.

6. We are now finalising our replying affidavits and will do so in the next few days.

7. However, until an interdict orders them to stop work, the developers can proceed with their building. Indeed, they are ploughing ahead as rapidly as possible with the earthworks in an effort to make it a fait accompli for the court. The roads into the River Club are now showing the tell-tale signs of heavy truck traffic, with sand and dust all over the road and surface damage to come.

8. Once we submit the affidavits, then a judge will be appointed and a court date identified. This is likely to be later in September or October where the interdict will be considered. Then the court process will unfold.

On other related matters:

– The South African Heritage Resources Authority (SAHRA) met with the OCA, the GKKTIC and the TRUPA this week to discuss our application for the heritage status for the Two Rivers Urban Park, in which the River Club is located. SAHRA received our nomination, made in 2020 to Heritage Western Cape for provincial heritage status after HWC decided in July that the TRUP was of such significance that the application should be sent to SAHRA for grading as a national heritage resource. It was clear from our discussion with the SAHRA officials that there is no doubt in their mind that the site deserves national heritage status and should be taken through the process of consultation and determination. We impressed on SAHRA the importance of grading the site as quickly as possible, given the ongoing destruction of intangible heritage on the site, and they appeared alarmed and very concerned. We hope this will translate into urgent action to protect the national estate, as their mandate dictates.

– The OCA appealed the Water Use License (WUL) issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation in June. The process of appealing the WUL was not made easy by the DWS who did not do what they say they would (which was to tell when the WUL was approved), nor did they give us the license which you need is order to appeal, nor did they explain how to get the license – not until many back and forth emails discovered the following new South Africa conundrum: As a Citizen you have a right to appeal a Water Use License decision; but to appeal the decision, the rules say you must attach the license and the reasons, indicated the grounds for appeal. But while you have a right to appeal, you don’t have a right to the documents you need to appeal – you have to apply under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to get the documents. So, even if you enjoy the right to appeal it is meaningless because the rules for appealing the license require information which you have to ask for. When I asked why this was the case, I was told it was because the applicant has a right to protect their information. Go figure that one out.

– However, once a WUL is appealed, the law automatically triggers a suspension of the license. While the license was suspended they could not proceed with the earthworks on the floodplain.

– So, what they did was to approach the Minister of Water Affairs, Sanitation and Human Settlements to exercise her discretion as permitted under the law to lift the suspension. This she did within a week of receiving counter-arguments, seemingly with the advice of a special advisor who was in direct communication with the LLPT in the matter. The Mail and Guardian has published in hard copy a good summary of the somewhat questionable process in which this WUL suspension was lifted. (The online version is filled with more developer claims).

– In all of this, Amazon has remained tight-lipped but our information tells us that the driving force behind all of this is Amazon’s aggressive demands. Same colonisers, different ships…

In terms of community mobilisation:

– We have held successful public events including a Freedom Day Walk in April, a Walk of Liberation in June and a Moonlight cultural event in August, attended by a wide diversity of groups, led by Khoi Councils and cultural bodies (see our photos spread out through this newsletter).

– We have given talks on a range of platforms including those at the Claremont Street Mosque, the Friends of the Liesbeek and the Centre for Sustainability Transitions.

– We have set up a new website at https://www.liesbeek.org/and another website focused primarily on Khoi perspective will be established shortly.

– Our petition is now over 57 000 people and headed soon for 60 000.

– We are working with likeminded civil society groups in the US, particularly around lobbying Amazon, and drawing international support from indigenous and environmental groups.

– Our press coverage has been good over the past while (including from people whom we have never met before but who feel so strongly about the matter that they wrote to the press. Some of these articles are to found at:

Khoi activist: “Amazon is the 2021 version of the Dutch East India Company”

The Amazon Development might bring jobs while carting away biodiversity

– We have also been interviewed by Carte Blanche for a documentary, which is slated for airing on Sunday 12thSeptember.

– We are shortly going to appoint a part time organiser for the campaign, which we hope will leverage other resources for the campaign.

We are furiously raising funds for the court battle and our backabuddy site is steadily growing. However, while we have collected over R 210 000 to date, we are still in need of substantial funding for legal fees, not to mention our campaign work.
If you wish to contribute, you can do so at our backabuddy site or directly through EFT to the account detailed on our website.
More importantly, if you have suggestions for how we can raise funds for this mammoth battle against corporate behemoths, please feel free to share, and open any doors for us that you think might be helpful.

We are not stopping despite the mud, threats, disinformation and defamation being hurled at us.

Thank you for your support.
It means a huge amount for this campaign

Leslie London obo the Liesbeek Action Campaign – Make the Liesbeek Matter