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Amazon's Cape Town base: The battle to save South

African culture

  • LAC

Heritage Day for Indigenous People.

Heritage is an important component of who we are as people indigenous to South Africa. Due to our history of slavery, mass genocide, colonisation, apartheid, and many more atrocities on our land, it is the one way we can remember who we are. This Heritage Day, I feel it is even more important to turn the focus to our land. We have to preserve the land for us to remember our ancestors, in order to honour them, and for the sake of future generations.

Currently, one of the most important areas of Cape Town is being desecrated at the hands of capitalists to build Amazon’s Africa Headquarters. The site they’ve chosen is in Observatory over the Blackriver and Liesbeek river intersection. This site is where one of the major wars against colonisation was fought between the KhoeKhoen and the Dutch starting in 1659. It is a site that reminds us of our resilience and bravery in the face of adversity. It is a place where our people united and practiced their spirituality.

Ronnie Kasrils states that “A quarter-century into democracy, there is little evidence that our cities have been able to restore equitable relationships between people and their environment. Apartheid spatial planning lives on as the poor is deprived of even basic potable water.” This is a profound statement because it is the reality of so many and it is especially painful because as we watch Amazon erect a building on a historical site. We continue to be deprived of accessing our own resources and the displacement continues. A large majority of indigenous people still live on the outskirts of the city. The townships we were jailed in because colonisers considered it unfit for them, while they instead took over our homes in the “better” parts of the city. This hasn’t changed even post 1994. We still cannot afford to live in areas closer to the city centre, where we would have more opportunities and access.

While democracy is important, restitution and equity are equally as important. How do we grow as a people when the system is rigged in favour of settlers? Why has the city not invested resources into exploring affordable and accessible housing in various areas closer to the city centre? When a large majority of the workforce lives on the Cape Flats. Moreover, why has the city not invested in more development on the Cape Flats as a way to ensure more jobs and jobs that are closer to the people? Developing business centres in different parts of the city would not only strengthen the economy but would ensure better living conditions. Not necessarily because corporations care about the living conditions of the Black working class, but simply because of optics. No one likes an ugly view from their office window.

Service delivery in townships is notoriously awful and inadequate. It is not uncommon for our refuse to be left for weeks on end, for sewer drains to overflow, and of course to experience more potholes than there are roads. These things don’t happen in the leafy suburbs, if it does and someone complains, the city jumps into action. It is shameful to watch, our townships went from subpar to uninhabitable. and the city keeps moving.

In the township I was born in, Hanover Park the post office, park, and bus ticket stand have been closed. The library is depleted with a poor selection and very few resources, the community’s only clinic is only opened during the day. Very few people have their own cars, ambulance and the police ignore calls for help: if you have a medical crisis, you have to pray it happens during the day. The excuse for this is gang violence, but if the City of Cape Town and authorities are so concerned about their safety going into the township, do they ever ask how scared we are living there?

The construction of these townships, displacing people, throwing them into horrible living conditions with no way out was intentional. They didn’t have to kill us, we would eventually be worn down by the psychological warfare and do it ourselves. There’s nothing to occupy children, no parks, no grass to sit on, no trees to climb, and a poor excuse of a library.

While settlers consistently try and paint us as violent criminals in a gaslighting attempt to brainwash us in an attempt to forget their very nature that has been the catalyst for these atrocities. We can’t forget that it is also none other than a settler, Chris Prinsloo who has been found guilty of flooding the Cape Flats with guns. Guns which have been used to murder 1000+ people.

This Heritage Day, we have to remember that this land is ours. We have to continue pushing for equity. We have to keep pushing ahead with affordable housing and hold the City of Cape Town accountable for its ongoing disregard for human rights. We have to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are recognised and that our most sacred spaces aren’t sold to the highest bidder. We have to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of water and the land over and above capitalism and individual greed. The City of Cape Town is guilty of upholding the colonial toxicity that was created in the bloodshed of our people.

Author: Nadine Dirks, indigenous activist and author.

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