When news broke in April that Amazon had launched a mega-plan to open a huge African headquarters in South Africa, it was received as great, generally good news.
The world’s top-selling technology company was finally prepared for the challenge of Africa, it seemed.
For years, Amazon’s interaction with the African continent was limited to Amazon Web Services (AWS; the cloud computing business), a few thousand virtual customer service jobs, and an undocumented number of residents (in 17 African countries) ordering things online and paying high shipping fees to have items shipped across oceans (usually from the US) within a few days.
By announcing that the City of Cape Town has now approved a ZAR 4 billion ($ 280.2 million) project that puts retail giant Amazon at the center of a 150,000 square meter space (70,000 square meters of which is dedicated) to Amazon) it seemed almost certain that the US e-commerce giant wanted to finally expand into Africa. And that speculation has certainly caused quite a stir.
However, it seems that not everyone is so excited about the proposed plans and Amazon is suddenly caught in a dispute that is now on trial.
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The problem? Well, it has something to do with the location chosen to develop the huge facility that Amazon would be home to. This location is an area that is now controversial.
It turned out that the chosen location at the confluence of two rivers is home to the earliest Khoi and San residents in southern Africa. And this area seems to be of historical importance for certain groups due to its cosmological, spiritual and ecological importance for the indigenous groups.
The story goes that South Africa’s indigenous Khoi and San people fought off a Portuguese attack over 500 years ago in one of the first and most successful anti-colonial battles in Africa.
Now it is that Amazon’s proposed African headquarters is being established on the land that served for those historic battles, and some descendants of the Khoi and San are pushing against the e-tailer’s plans.
Reportedly, rights groups filed an interdict with the Western Cape High Court last week to halt the nearly $ 300 million development that would include a hotel, residential units and retail offices including Amazon; billed to create 6,000 direct and 19,000 indirect jobs in unemployed South Africa.
56,000 people have also been reported to have signed a petition against the onshore construction plans that previously served as a golf course and bar, which community leaders say have archaeological value and should be declared a heritage site.
In fact, a lot of history is associated with this place as it is a symbolic ground that houses the ghosts of the historical anti-colonial battles between the Khoi and the Portuguese. and between the Khoi and the Dutch. This country is also considered to be the place where the slave trade resumed in South Africa and where the foundation stone was laid for 46 years of apartheid rule by the white minority.
Today, nearly three decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa is still one of the most inequitable countries in the world and this has been identified as one of the factors contributing to the wanton violence and looting that regularly plagues the country.
One of the areas in which this enormous inequality manifests itself in South Africa is land ownership – so large areas of private land remain in white ownership to this day.
This is despite the fact that there was a land expropriation campaign during the apartheid years that effectively evicted black and multiracial people from certain areas and at that time gave much of the land to whites.
For many years after apartheid, South Africa’s white minority still owns much of the country and thousands of land disputes remain unresolved in court. Therefore, “land” in South Africa is a very sensitive and somewhat tricky topic. That could say a thing or two about how deep the fear goes for Amazon development.
“Here you can trace the origins of our identity, it is the footprint of our resistance to colonialism,” said Tauriq Jenkins of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), a Khoi group that opposes the project.
“This development shows a lack of sensitivity to our heritage,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
So far, Amazon has been silent on the issue, but the agency overseeing the development, the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLTP), claims the project would create jobs, attract foreign investment and improve the quality of life in Cape Town.
LLTP has also spoken out on honoring Khoi and San history by building a heritage garden, media center, amphitheater and naming internal streets after indigenous leaders.
That being said, there is a separate group of Khoi and San natives known as the First Nations Collective who have taken opposing attitudes in supporting the project and promoting it as progress.
Nonetheless, a case was brought before the High Court by the GKKITC and the Observatory Civic Association, which is due to be heard on August 16.
Selected image courtesy: Logic Web Media