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The high court has temporarily halted construction of Amazon’s planned new Africa headquarters in Cape Town and ordered the company to consult with indigenous people who say the site is sacred land.

Building work should cease immediately and developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust must undertake “meaningful engagement and consultation” with members of the Khoisan people, the original inhabitants of the land, the court said in a March 18 ruling.

“The fundamental right to culture and heritage of indigenous groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations Peoples are under threat in the absence of proper consultation,” the Cape Town high court said.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Tauriq Jenkins, a spokesman for the indigenous people’s Goringhaicona Khoena Council, said in a text message that he was aware of the ruling and “we will now proceed with the review with favorable prospects.”

Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust is “deeply disappointed” by the court ruling and is considering legal avenues available to it in the circumstances, a spokeswoman said via email.

Amazon Web Services’s clients in sub-Saharan Africa include Johannesburg-based lender Absa Group and Nigerian payments firm Flutterwave but its online-retail operation has yet to build a significant presence in the region. 

While the City of Cape Town approved construction of the Amazon site, saying it will create thousands of jobs and give a boost to South Africa’s Covid-19-ravaged economy, the plan quickly drew criticism from members of the Khoisan people.

“The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples,” the court said.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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