South Africa

Letter to the Editor

Why we, as representatives of the First Nations, support the River Club development

Why we, as representatives of the First Nations, support the River Club development
Part of the proposed development of the River Club site involves building a bridge from Berkley Road in Ndabeni, which ends under the M5 on the east bank of the Black River, over the river to join Liesbeek Parkway. The confluence of the Liesbeek and Black Rivers is a sacred site for some South Africans. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The First Nations Collective says that it fully supports the multibillion-rand redevelopment of the River Club in Observatory, Cape Town, and rejects the findings of Heritage Western Cape.

This letter was first published on GroundUp.

Read more on the River Club Development here and here.

The First Nations Collective, consisting of the majority of Khoi and San leaders in the Cape Peninsula, is extremely disappointed by the final comments of Heritage Western Cape (HWC) on the proposed redevelopment of the River Club, Observatory.

HWC appears to have completely ignored how this project would preserve and celebrate the relevant First Nations’ heritage, rehabilitate and indigenise the local ecology while providing thousands of jobs which will benefit thousands of unemployed First Nation descendants and contributing R4-billion to SA’s economy.

Staggeringly, in the GroundUp story, republished on 19 February by Daily Maverick as “Heritage Western Cape slams River Club development plan” HWC CEO Mxolisi Dlamuka states that any development of property in the Two Rivers area “is in danger of being compromised” unless the baseline study involves “meaningful consultation” with the First Nations and incorporates their understanding of the significance of the site into the study.

Yet, this is exactly what has happened over the past few months.

Leaders of the First Nations Collective held numerous meaningful and constructive engagements with the River Club owners. These centred on how to sensitively and respectfully memorialise the historical significance of the area and celebrate the history and culture of the First Nations.

The result is a development proposal that includes world-class facilities where the First Nations will be empowered, to permanently collate and curate our heritage, to meaningfully practise our culture and tell our own stories while training our own people. Through this project our voice will have a platform to find resonance across South Africa – and with indigenous communities across the world.

Yet, despite representatives of the First Nations Collective appearing before HWC and informing them of the outcomes of these engagements, and the fact that we fully support the proposed redevelopment, this was completely ignored by the committee.

Our support for this project has been extensively pondered. Our decision is primarily a strategic act of indigenous cultural agency where we, as an integral part of the Khoi and San resurgence, act in our own interest to secure a legacy for us and for seven generations into the future for which we are responsible.

The significance of this area and the adjoining Oude Molen site has been the subject of intense engagement between ourselves and numerous senior state officials. This includes premiers of the Western Cape government, provincial ministers of several Western Cape government administrations, mayors of the City of Cape Town, the Chief Land Claims commissioners, several ministers of the national government and even the apex of governance, namely the Presidency.

All our efforts in this regard have fallen on deaf ears, have been subjected to ridicule and/or bludgeoned with the arrogant silence of invisibility, which means being treated as never having spoken and not worthy of being heard.

It is with the knowledge of having been trivialised, silenced and bludgeoned into invisibility that we as the Gorinhaqua Cultural Council elected to directly engage with the owner of the River Club, Mr Jody Aufrichtig on the redevelopment proposal.

What we have discovered during this engagement process is that the developer has been open and empathetic to our concerns, which were placed on the table in a frank exchange of views.

Through this lengthy process, two pertinent results of our discussions have persuaded us to take a position in support of the proposed River Club development.

The first is that we believe that the developer has grasped the intense pain that has been associated with the bludgeoning of our narrative. As such, the developer, unlike any other government, corporate, or social entities with which we have engaged, has made a firm commitment to ensure that the footprint of the Khoi and San’s history of resistance, and its modern-day resurgence is incorporated into the development plan.

Of the many commitments that the developer has made, one of the most significant has been to allocate an area in the centre of this development, which is of great cultural significance to us, for the building of a Heritage Centre, a functional indigenous garden and cultural praxis site and a world-first International Indigenous Media and Communication Centre.

In doing so, the developer, unlike any government department, including HWC, has honoured one of the central planks of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). It calls for indigenous peoples to have the capacity to record, report on, as well as print and broadcast matters and events of concern to them.

The second point that has swayed us to give our unambiguous support to the development proposal is that the developer has committed to cleaning up and indigenising the ecology of the area and to ensuring that the spiritual and cultural symbols of the Khoi and the San find resonance within the proposed development plan.

We have arrived at this position after much consideration and consultation with many of the senior indigenous leaders and their councils in the Peninsula, and also with prominent national leaders of the Khoi and the San.

We are aware that there will be detractors, including those who believe that indigenous people stand diametrically opposed to development. They believe the First Nations are rather best served by being relegated to an anthropoid fetishised state where they roam perpetually in antiquity without the tools to navigate the modern world.

Others, for their own reasons, will try to maintain the area as a golf course and the riverbanks as rustic, undeveloped spaces, where women and children can be attacked at will.

Our position is that they are entitled to their views, but we must emphasise that indigenous people are not the perpetual children that the colonists and colonial mentality would have us be. On the contrary, it is our view that such paternalistic notions must be put to the sword. This is because we, the ones who had been at the frontline of fighting for recognition, restitution and restoration, have elected to exercise agency in our own interest and our progeny.

Kei gan gans

Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan (On behalf of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council)

Chief !Garu Zenzile speaks on behalf of the First Nations Collective which includes the following houses and leaders: the Gorinhaiqua (Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan, Mr Ron Martin); Gorachouqua (Kai Bi’a !Kora Hennie van Wyk); Bi’a Jeannette Abrahams; Cochoqua (Chief John Jansen, Chief Tania Kleinhans-Cedras); Griqua Royal Council (high commissioner and deputy secretary general of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa [Contralesa]; His Excellency, Aaron Martin William Messelaar, San Traditional Royal House of Nǀǀnǂe (Queen Katriena Esau, Prince Titus) and National Khoi and San Council (Chief Cecil le Fleur, Princess Chantal Bruckner), Western Cape Legislative Khoisan Council (Chief Aushumoa, Chief Timo, Headman Joe Damons). 

Even as this response is being scripted, numerous indigenous structures have joined and now include Overberg Heritage Committee, the Foundation Nation Restoration and the KhoiSan Labour Forum. Engagements with many other cultural structures are at an advanced stage, to ensure that there is an overwhelming critical mass of support for the position we have taken. DM

 

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