Amazon is looking to build its new African headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa in a project that will take between three and five years. However, the land on which the multibillion-dollar corporation seeks to put its edifice belongs to the local Khoisan people, reputed to be the oldest existing people in the world.
Since the project was announced a few years ago, Khoisan people, aided by conservationists, have appealed to have the project rejected because of the sensitive matter of Khoisan culture. What ensued was a clash of ideals – to respect the traditions and identity of a people or to give way to the ambitions of one of the most prosperous businesses ever founded.
Legal challenges to the project were won by the cities authorities who have constantly touted the economic benefits that will be accrued from what Amazon is promising with the 150,000 square meter space.
“With Amazon’s headquarters, with can expect many more thousands of jobs for Capetonians,” James Vos, who is the Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management at the City of Cape Town, told a local news platform. 19,000 jobs are expected for Capetonians, according to authorities.
In April, the Mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato, promised that the issue of Khoisan heritage and ancestral lands had been resolved. Plato maintained that Cape Town had “carefully and thoroughly considered all of the submissions and concerns during the appeal process”. But it would seem Plato’s pledge was not believed.
In May, scores of protesters, including Khoisan opinion leaders and chieftains, protested on the proposed land. This made the news. Khoebaha Arendse, the traditional leader of the Kai Korona Transfrontier which is part of the expanse of land Amazon seeks to claim, said this at the protest:
Our freedom was not brought about by Amazon. Our liberty was not brought about by Amazon. Our spaces of significance was brought upon by the blood of our ancestors and the sacrifices of Korana.
Amazon went to South Africa in 2004 when it opened its first development center in Cape Town for Amazon Web Services (AWS) but its eCommerce services had, until now, not been available in Africa. AWS has increased its presence in South Africa by opening multiple offices. Now, the plan is to reach all of Africa from Cape Town and the corporation has to contend with the existing criticisms.
The firm that is owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, has come under scrutiny in the last few years owing to the campaign by American politicians on the left to have Amazon give fairer wages to its workers and maintain a better working environment. A few years ago too, a proposal to build a headquarters in New York City was defeated by politicians led by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who criticized the tax and housing repercussions Amazon’s project would cost the city.
The Khoisan are in Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe and are about 90, 000 in population. They are about 100,000 to 140,000 years old and speak all the Khoe, Tuu and Kx’a family of languages.