Amazon’s new South African HQ gets the go-ahead

The facility will serve as Amazon's new base on the continent and a stimulant for the local economy. But rights groups say it will ransack land considered sacred by the indigenous Khoi people.

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Image : The River Club

The City of Cape Town has given the green light for the construction of a new mega-development housing Amazon Inc’s new Africa base in the heart of Cape Town’s emerging tech hub.

Amazon will be the main tenant in the $280m (R4bn) River Club project that will also house residential units, office space, restaurants and a 200-room hotel.

The municipality granted approval for the sprawling multiplex to be built across 15 hectares of land over three to five years on Sunday.

“US retail giant, Amazon, will be the anchor tenant, opening a base of operations on the African continent,” it said in a statement.

The project will create around 19, 500 jobs, it added.

Artist’s impression of the River Club development. Photo Credit: The River Club

The retail giant is hiring aggressively in the region and building its Africa team and tap into the region’s fast-growing middle class of more than Africa’s 300 million, estimated to be the biggest in the world.

“It makes a great deal of sense for Amazon to bring its recognizable brand and highly differentiated Global Selling program to Africa,” says business strategy consultant David Nour, referring to the giant’s international selling program that allows brands to list and sell their products on Amazon marketplaces in four continents.

“From its operations in Cape Town, it can offer sellers a trusted channel to this highly fragmented region, as a reliable provider of goods.

The announcement sparked outcry from environmental and civil society groups, who say the project ransacks the local ecosystem and dishonours a sacred heritage site of the indigenous Khoi people, who settled on the land when they were driven from another area by Dutch settlers. 

The development will also block the valley, aggravating flooding, climate change and drought, environmentalists say.

A local civil society group, The Observatory Civic Association (OCA), launched a fund-raising appeal on social media to take the project developers, the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, to the high court, continuing five-year legal battle against the firm.

“The money raised will enable a fair process in which the indigenous Khoi people who oppose the destruction of sacred land will be able to have their say about what kind of development happens on the land,” the OCA said.

Defending the move, the City of Cape Town insisted the project was “sustainable” and “balances ecological conservation and urban development.”

The project will include an indigenous garden, cultural, heritage and media centre for the Khoi people, a “heritage-eco trail” and garden amphitheatre that members of the displaced community can use.

Amazon will reportedly move its base from its modern eight-story office building in the city’s Roeland Street to the larger venue.

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