Amazon: South African court halts construction of headquarters on holy land

Judge Patricia Goliath said in a ruling on Friday that Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), owner of the 37-acre property in Cape Town, must immediately stop construction pending “good and meaningful consultation” with the indigenous people of Khoi and San.

“This case is ultimately about the rights of indigenous peoples,” Goliath said in the ruling, which was shared with CNN Business by the Observatory Civic Association, one of the parties that brought the case, as well as the developer of the property.

The Khoi and San peoples have lived in South Africa for thousands of years. The residential and commercial development is being built at the confluence of two rivers, near grasslands where ceremonies were held and where indigenous people fought against European invaders, the ruling said.

The area was first developed decades ago by South African Railways as a recreation space for its employees. According to the ruling, a golf course, restaurants and offices have since been added.

Amazon AMZN refused to respond Monday. The US tech giant “is the intended anchor tenant” for the site and “was consulted and accommodated in the design and layout” of parts of the development, the ruling said.

The city of Cape Town – listed as a respondent in the case – said last year that the 4 billion rand ($268 million) site would house Amazon’s African headquarters. The complex will also include hotel, residential and retail space.

LLPT said in a statement Monday it was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling and is considering options. By 2020, the project would “boost Cape Town’s economy and population” and create more than 6,000 jobs.

South Africa has an unemployment rate of almost 35%.

Goliath said her order requiring consultation “should not be construed as criticism of the development”. But she said the rights of indigenous peoples outweigh economic considerations.

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

The Liesbeek Action Campaign, which fights the development, welcomed the court’s decision, saying the site represents the “Ground Zero of resistance to colonial interference in South Africa … which can never be buried in concrete.”

However, not all indigenous groups are against the location, which complicates the way forward in a country where the indigenous people have endured decades of colonial rule and apartheid policies.

“The current tension between First Nations Groups amplifies the need for meaningful engagement and good consultation,” Goliath said.

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