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The Liesbeek Action Campaign: ‘Yes, misinformation must stop, but it is not coming from opponents of the development’

Khoi leader Chief Autshumato McKenzie during a heritage tribunal site visit to the River Club. (Photo: Alessandro Iovino)

The Liesbeek Action Campaign believes that misinformation is rife with regard to the River Club development. However, it is not the opponents of the development who are misinforming the public.

This is a response to Mr Jody Aufrichtig’s Right to Reply dated 17 August 2021.

We present here 13 claims made by Mr Jody Aufrichtig, which are based on incorrect or selective facts and are therefore misleading.

Claim 1: “Heritage Western Cape (HWC) recently met and made the decision not to accept the nomination for the area to be declared a provincial heritage site.”

Heritage Western Cape considered the application for the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) for grading as a provincial heritage site on 22 July 2021 and decided that the TRUP was of such importance that it should be a national heritage site. 

HWC referred the application to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for grading as a national heritage site. Only SAHRA can grade national heritage sites. Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust representatives were in the room when this was recommended. Having accepted the nomination, HWC realised the site was worthy of even higher status than provincial heritage. It is therefore misleading to claim HWC did not accept the nomination.

Claim 2: “Interested and affected parties were given the opportunity to voice their objections in the development planning approval process. All of these were comprehensively responded to by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT).”

The responses could not have been comprehensive because the City’s environmental management department felt strongly enough about the inappropriateness of the development that they lodged an appeal against the Environmental Authorisation (EA). Similarly, the responses on heritage were very far from comprehensive since HWC declared the EA unlawful in their appeal. 

There has been no public rescinding of these comments.

Interested and affected parties protest against development at the River Club before the Heritage Appeals Tribunal hearing on 21 November at the offices of Heritage Western Cape. ( Photo: Steve Kretzmann)

Claim 3: “To cite prior comments provided by commenting bodies during the public participation process, and then not provide the final outcome of these, is intentionally misleading the public… ”

The decision to award the Environmental Authorisation (EA) was the final outcome of the public participation process. After the EA, many appeals against the EA were lodged including appeals by HWC and the City’s environmental management department, which we quoted. 

The regulations under the National Environmental Management Act do not regard an appeal process as part of public participation. Therefore, to claim that the rejection of the appeals by the minister is part of public participation is misleading.

The courts will decide whether the concerns in the appeals have been addressed.

Claim 4: “The City’s environmental management department has shown its support for the detailed planning process and shown its cooperation with the City’s planning department on the subsequent planning processes to comply with the conditions of approval.

There is no public record of the City’s environmental management department changing its view of the inappropriateness of the development. The fact that they are cooperating with the conditions of approval does not reflect they believe the development is appropriate. The claim by the developer is not supported with any evidence.

Claim 5: “They are nothing more than mouthpieces for a small group of activists who have opposed the development from the outset… ”

The Observatory Civic Association (OCA) did not approach any of the authors to write the articles. The authors wrote their articles of their own accord, probably because they were disgusted at the way the developers have disregarded heritage and environmental concerns. 

The claim that the authors are our “mouthpieces” is without any foundation and casts serious aspersions on the authors’ integrity without a shred of evidence.

Mr Aufrichtig continues to repeat the claim that we are a “small group of activists”. He is ignoring the fact that more than 60 Khoi entities, civic associations and NGOs support our campaign for TRUP to be a heritage site and more than 56,000 people have signed a petition in support. 

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)

Claim 6: “The most deeply offensive, namely the authors’ claims that the planned River Club redevelopment ignores the rich heritage and spiritual significance of the site.”

The fact that the development ignores the rich heritage and spiritual significance of the site is a view articulated by the competent heritage authority in the province: HWC noted in their final comments on the LLPT’s Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA): 

“The HIA undervalues the significance of the heritage resources generally… the HIA fails to assess the impact of the development on the most important heritage resource: The site’s open, green qualities as a remnant of landscape that has considerable intangible historic and cultural heritage significance… The HIA has unfortunately reduced this significance to a set of ecological values, provided for the most part to post-rationalise a wholly intrusive development model, rather than inform appropriate development.”

This view is echoed in the comments submitted by Khoi groups throughout the participation process but ignored by the developers. Significant authentic Khoi entities have confirmed they do not accept that the development honours their history and heritage. Please see the statements by the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, the Cochoqua Indigenous Tribal Royal House, the Democratic Federation of Indigenous People SA, the Kai Korana Transfrontier, and the !Aman Traditional Authority, among many others.

Numerous comments made on our petition confirm this. For example, one person signed the petition with the comment: “I am a DIRECT DESCENDANT of the first people of South Africa and I have had ENOUGH of the violations against our people, our sacred spaces and history. ENOUGH!”

From left: Chief Noel of the Cochoqua, Paramount Chief Fredericks of the !Aman and Nama, Paramount Chief Aran of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council and Khoebaha Melvin Christian Arendse of the Kai Korana Transfrontier at a gathering of First Nations groups, at the South African Astronomical Observatory, and more than 60 civic organisations and environmental groups in the growing fight against the proposed River Club development in Cape Town. (Photo: supplied)

Claim 7: “They are wilfully ignoring the wishes of the majority of First Nations leaders in the Peninsula, known as the First Nations Collective, who vociferously support the River Club redevelopment.

We do not wilfully ignore the First Nations Collective’s (FNC) opinion, we just disagree that exchanging the intangible heritage of a Ground Zero sacred precinct for a cultural centre, herb garden and amphitheatre run by individuals and organisations who made a private deal with a moneyed developer is in the interest of everyone.

Second, there is no evidence that a “majority” of First Nation leaders in the peninsula support the development. See above the range of Khoi and San groups opposed to the development.

Claim 8: “Only the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Council objected to the redevelopment throughout the legislated process.”

This is a misrepresentation of widespread opposition. The Goringhaicona submissions in the public participation process were supported by 12 First Nation entities. 

In contrast, the First Nations Collective did not make any submissions on the rezoning or the environmental assessment throughout the legislated process. There is no mention of the FNC or any of the entities affiliated with the FNC as Interested and Affected Parties in any of the rezoning or EA documents. 

The First Nations Collective only appears in 2019 as part of the developer’s application. If the developer wishes to play semantics by restricting the validity of inputs to the process to the “legislated process” in which Interested and Affected Parties comment, then the development has no support from any Khoi entities since none of the FNC entities made any submissions.

A general view of the River Club in Cape Town on September 22 2020, site of the proposed R4-billion redevelopment. (Photo: Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan)

Claim 9: “Mr Tauriq Jenkins’s title of ‘Supreme High Commissioner’ does not exist in traditional First Nations leadership structures.”

This is a statement that has no basis. Mr Jenkins holds an authentic office recognised with a Khoi Indigenous Council. It is unclear how a white male businessman in 2021 gets to decide how an indigenous council should run its leadership structures. This is reminiscent of the apartheid government deciding how traditional chiefs in the homelands had to run their local councils.

Claim 10: “The First Nations Collective have argued that this is a serious conflict of interest.”

It is true that Mr Jenkins is both an executive member of OCA and a leader of a Khoi entity, the Goringhaicona. However, a conflict of interest would only exist where an individual is involved in multiple interests and serving one interest would involve working against another. Since the OCA and the Goringhaicona agree in their opposition to the development, it is unclear why there is conflict of interest.

On the other hand, since the First Nations Collective are claiming to represent the Khoi nation as a whole, but themselves have direct interest in a particular outcome of the development, it would seem that the FNC is involved in a serious conflict of interest.

Claim 11: “Requests were made to the provincial and national heritage authorities by the very same OCA and Mr Jenkins calling for this status, which has not been backed by any expert reports.”

This is completely untrue. 

The reports that confirm the site as a provincial if not national heritage site are multiple and consistent, including a 2015 report by ACO Associates (2015), Attwell (2017), O’Donoghue (2017), Posthlethwayt (2019) and Final Comments issued by Heritage Western Cape in 2019. Our application is therefore backed by multiple expert reports. 

It is only the developers’ Heritage Impact Assessment (by Townsend and Hart) in 2019 that refuses to acknowledge the site as of huge heritage significance. Even the FNC’s Chief Zenzile Khoisan noted in 2016 that the Two Rivers Urban Park should be a heritage precinct.

Claim 12: “[The development] will provide a range of socioeconomic benefits to surrounding communities including developer-subsidised inclusive housing… ”

Only 4% of the development footprint is inclusive housing. It is much less than what an equivalent development in any other site might be expected to deliver.

Claim 13: “… publicly accessible green spaces… ”

The City’s environmental management department appeal noted that the claim to enhance open space is “inaccurate because nothing new will be provided in these areas outside the River Club site on City land. These areas already constitute publicly owned open space. Accordingly, there will be a net loss of open space across the site.” 

We agree that misinformation about the River Club should stop. That should apply to the developers who have a vested interest in avoiding facts that are inconvenient to their application. 

Let the courts decide. DM/MC

Leslie London is Chairperson of the Observatory Civic Association (OCA); Tauriq Jenkins is High Commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council and OCA Executive member; Marc Turok is Chairperson of the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) Association and Liesbeek Action Campaign participant.

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All Comments 3

  • Very well put Leslie. Keep up the good work. And always follow the money – when projects get steamrollered through, someone somewhere is collecting a brown envelope.

  • The development aside, I cannot see how a golf driving range , pub and conference centre which brought back life to a much neglected piece of land and building embraces the rich heritage and spiritual significance of the site either. Yet it was permitted.