Indigenous peoples are actually in favour of 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 / GroundUp

This will be the realisation of a dream we have fought for throughout the resurgence of the our people.

Right of reply:

The article “First Nation and developers battle over future of landmark Cape Town site” quotes a number of people who claim to speak on behalf of the First Nations people and who oppose the development of the River Club site.

However, this is not a true reflection of the position of the majority of senior indigenous leaders and their councils in the Peninsula and so I would like to set the record straight. 

The land at River Club, Observatory, is no stranger to contestation. The provisional protection order put in place by Heritage Western Cape (HWC), largely because of the site’s historical and cultural significance for the Khoi and San, forms part of the site’s history.

The Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council agrees that the proposed development is located within an area which indisputably is part of the terrible history of our land, which caused the foundational peoples of that area to be put to the sword, dispossessed of their historical land, dispersed into the margins and subjected to a cultural and social genocide.

However, while we recognise the deep heritage and environmental significance of the site, we would like to place on record the support of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council for the River Club redevelopment proposal, which will be located within the broader Two Rivers Urban Parkway corridor.

Our support for this project has been extensively pondered and 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, including, but not limited, to 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 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 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 this 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, this 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 World-First International Indigenous Media and Communication Centre.

In doing so, the developer, unlike any other government department, has honoured one of the central planks of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) which 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.

As a veteran journalist with more than 30-years’ experience in the local and international print and electronic media, this will be the realisation of the dream we have fought for throughout the resurgence, which is to tell our own story, to train our own people and to ensure that our voices find traction within the South African nation and in the community of indigenous people around the world.

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 finds 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. These include the Khoi elder statesman, K’bia Hennie van Wyk, chief of the Gorachoiqua tribal council; Chiefs John Jansen and Tania Kleinhans-Cedras of the Cochoqua; High Commissioner Aaron Messellaar, of the Griqua Royal council, and Chief Cecil le Fleur, chairman of the National Khoi and San council.

We are aware, without a doubt, that there will be detractors, including those who believe that indigenous people stand diametrically opposed to development and are 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 colonist and colonial mentality would have us be. On the contrary, it is our view that such paternalistic notions must themselves be put to the sword, 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 that of our progeny.

Kei gan gans

Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan

(On behalf of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council)

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