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It appears that Amazon.com Inc has come out victorious, as a South African court has given the go ahead for the planned construction of its Cape Town office, in the face of opposition from a group of indigenous people attempting to stop the development. The Western Cape High Court ruling found that those opposing the project could not “demonstrate that the right to heritage is at risk of suffering any harm,” while adding that the cultural value of the site is undisputed. “On the contrary, the papers indicated that the development might enhance the land’s resources, having regard to the degraded state of the site when the authorisations were granted.” This can be seen as a major win for Capetonians who stand to benefit from the R4.6bn investment. – Asime Nyide
Amazon’s Africa flagship campus gets the go-ahead from court
By Loni Prinsloo
(Bloomberg) – The construction of Amazon.com Inc.’s planned offices in Cape Town should be allowed to go ahead, according to a South African court, in a setback for the indigenous people attempting to stop the development.
The ruling from the Western Cape High Court said that those opposing the project could not “demonstrate that the right to heritage is at risk of suffering any harm,” while adding that the cultural value of the site is undisputed. “On the contrary, the papers indicated that the development might enhance the land’s resources having regard to the degraded state of the site when the authorizations were granted.”
A court had ruled in March that Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, which is building the site that Amazon is planning to use as a flagship office in Africa, should stop work while it reviewed whether the developer had properly consulted the relevant stakeholders. While Liesbeek had continued work after an appeal, it was an early victory for the the Khoisan group opposed to the development.
Leslie London, a professor at the University of Cape Town who’s been involved in the case and spoke on behalf of the group opposing the development, said that they had been “outmaneuvered legally because we do not have the deep pockets our opponents have.” They plan to take legal advice about next steps and don’t believe it changes their position in another court process that is reviewing the decision to build on the site, which the Khoisan deem a crucial part of their heritage.
“We don’t believe the outcome will change our case in the review,” said London. The Khoisan group filed an affidavit combating allegations against their case late, and it wasn’t accepted by the court.
Amazon is planning to use the new offices to consolidate its employees in the city and host new hires for its growing operations. Amazon has been expanding on the continent by building data centers and opening additional offices in Johannesburg and Lagos. The current battles over the Liesbeek site have resulted in a number of project delays for the developer and the company.
The judgment is a “major win for all Capetonians who stand to benefit from the 4.6 billion rand ($260 million) project,” Liesbeek said in a statement on Tuesday. A representative for Amazon declined to comment.
Africa has a fast-growing, young and tech-savvy population that makes it an attractive market, though problems such as spotty internet and power access in many countries have historically limited growth. The numbers of skilled workers and the infrastructure in South Africa, the most developed economy on the continent, has made it an attractive destination for international tech companies looking to expand, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp.
The court also said that the original judgment in March was induced by fraud.
It said that the respondent misrepresented information relating to the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin constitution, and did not have the authorization to start the proceedings that culminated in the original judgment. The Khoisan leader who filed the case further misrepresented the views of some indigenous leaders without consulting them, it said.
“There was no fraud,” London said. The groups who said that they weren’t individually consulted were represented by a chief who spoke on behalf of a number of tribes, and the Khoisan leader who filed the evidence didn’t claim to speak to each one, he said. “All simply terrible that this could not be brought to the judge’s attention,” London said.
(Updates with tribe’s response from third paragraph)
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