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Business Day published a misleading editorial in February implying that there was no truth to the claim by applicants seeking an interdict to stop the construction of a huge mixed-use development at the River Club in Observatory, Cape Town (“The underdogs are wrong this time”, February 4).

The development aimed to host the African headquarters for Amazon but was opposed on the basis that it would desecrate sacred heritage resources. Business Day took the view that there was no factual basis for such a claim, parroting the argument by the developer’s heritage consultants that there was no evidence the site was linked to the historic 1510 battle against Portuguese Admiral D’Almeida.

In her ruling on March 18 justice Patricia Goliath considered the facts presented and came to a different conclusion. She noted that the confluence of the Liesbeek and Black rivers is part of a site with “unique features and historical significance” involving “historical acts of dispossession and violence suffered by indigenous people at the hands of European settlers”.

On the basis that the fundamental rights to culture and heritage of Khoi and San peoples were under threat if the development was allowed to proceed, she interdicted the developers from continuing with construction pending the high court’s review of the approval decisions and meaningful consultation.

Last week, Business Day published another misleading front-page article that omitted some key facts (“Project worth R4.5bn at risk after interdict on Amazon HQ development”, March 22). Amazon had five other options shortlisted as sites for their HQ, as confirmed in an affidavit in our court papers. That Amazon chose to leapfrog the River Club to the top of the final shortlist is a business decision it took knowing full well the extent of opposition to the development and fully alerted to the environmental and heritage harms involved.

Without checking

Since we know Amazon is in Cape Town to stay, there is no plausible reason it cannot proceed with construction of its HQ at one of the other suitable sites. Protecting heritage and the environment need not come at the expense of business development or job creation.

Moreover, the article repeats verbatim some of the developers’ claims without checking if they are true. For example, the idea that the development will create a public park is incorrect. The city’s own environmental experts appealed against the environmental authorisation precisely because it did not create a park but rather an enormous development that would be harmful to biodiversity management and climate resilience.

The claim that the Liesbeek River is highly polluted is a fiction. The Liesbeek is one of the least-degraded urban waterways in Cape Town, as reported in scientific studies done for the city’s river management services. The article parrots the developer’s claims of impending financial loss but omits to mention evidence from the applicants’ affidavits, which point out that the contract with Amazon permits renegotiation without penalty.

The claim that the Goringhaicona is an organisation with three leaders is untrue and bizarre. None of these claims was checked by Business Day with the other parties.

Partisan position

Justice Goliath also dealt with the question of financial loss, noting that the developers were fully aware of the risks they were taking in proceeding when they knew the redevelopment was contested and subject to litigation. She also dismissed the argument related to economic, infrastructural and public benefits, because “this matter ultimately concerns the rights of indigenous peoples” and economic benefits “can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples”.

It is a sad day when a newspaper takes a partisan position on a matter of public interest, selectively choosing some opinions but leaving out the facts readers should be given to make a fair assessment of what is going on. Even more disappointing is the fact that such manipulation of public opinion should come one day after Human Rights Day.

Justice Goliath’s court ruling should be welcomed by anyone who considers our constitutional democracy and the human rights protections its gives to be of primary importance to our country’s future.

Leslie London
Observatory Civic Association

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