Online retail giant Amazon could pull out of a deal to create its Africa headquarters in Cape Town, if a legal challenge by indigenous activists is allowed to proceed, a Cape Town court heard Thursday.
Construction is already underway for Amazon’s four-billion-rand (262-million-dollar, 231-million-euro) African HQ, on land that Khoisan communities hold sacred as a site of their early resistance to European colonizers in 1510.
Several Khoisan groups have thrown their support behind the project, after the developers agreed to build a heritage, cultural and media center that will be operated by indigenous groups.
But the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council and a neighborhood association have asked the Western Cape High Court to halt construction.
A lawyer for the property developers, the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust, told the court that Amazon has signaled it will pull out of the project if the delay is granted.
“If Amazon has indicated, even directly, that it’s not going to tolerate any further delays, that’s not hearsay evidence,” advocate Sean Rosenberg told the court. “That’s direct evidence of what Amazon’s intentions are.”
“The much more likely possibility is that this project will not go ahead, given what has happened up till now, given Amazon’s impatience, given Amazon’s indication,” he added.
Amazon itself is not named in the case. The hearing is expected to conclude Friday.
Until two years ago, the site had hosted a golf course.
City authorities last year approved the construction of a nine-storey business and residential complex on a greenfield site that will be anchored by Amazon.
Its offices will provide total floor space of 70,000 square meters (7.5 million feet) — equivalent to almost 10 football pitches.
The court challenge is questioning the environmental approvals for the site.
Once hunter-gatherers known under the now-discarded label of Bushmen, the Khoisan suffered deeply under colonization and apartheid.
Many in their community say they still endure wide social inequalities and economic opportunities today, and their past remains overlooked.