Amazon threatens to walk away from plans for headquarters in Cape Town if activists’ lawsuit proceeds

Protestors marched in Cape Town last June to oppose development of the site, which they say is sacred. /AFP photo
Amazon logo at the entrance to Amazon Ireland. /NurPhoto via Getty Images

Online retail giant Amazon could pull out of a deal to create its Africa headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa if a legal challenge by indigenous activists is allowed to proceed, a Cape Town court heard Thursday.

Construction is already underway for Amazon’s 262 million U.S. dollar, African headquarters on land that Khoisan communities hold sacred as a site of their early resistance to European colonisers in 1510.

Several Khoisan groups threw their support behind the project after the developers agreed to build a heritage, cultural and media centre that will be operated by indigenous groups.

Protestors marched in Cape Town last June to oppose the development of the site, which they say is sacred. /AFP photo

But the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council and a neighbourhood 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 signalled 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 until 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.

Once hunter-gatherers, known under the now-discarded label of Bushmen, the Khoisan suffered deeply under colonisation and apartheid.

Many in their community say they still endure wide social inequalities and economic opportunities today, and their past remains overlooked.