Petition update

Now is the Time – Make the Liesbeek Matter!

Leslie London
Cape Town, South Africa

Mar 13, 2021 — 

Now is the time we need your support, both financial and moral, to Make the Liesbeek Matter. The Observatory Civic Association is raising funds to take legal action against the approvals of the River Club development. To make a donation, no matter how small or large, click here. Like so many other communities around South Africa and the world, we have been forced to turn to the courts to get the justice a constitutional democracy should provide to ordinary citizens.

For centuries, the Liesbeek River made its own way through the natural environment from its tributaries and springs on Table Mountain through a wide riverine valley, joining the Black River and ending in the Table Bay in a very large estuarine system with salt marshes and lakes.  The valley afforded the indigenous peoples of the area a rich base where their cattle could find feed and water and Khoi groups could establish their social networks.  The River thus plays a critical role in Khoi identity.

For that reason, the Liesbeek was the site of ground zero resistance to settler intrusion, even before the Dutch arrived to colonise the Cape. The first war of resistance against the Portuguese by the Khoi took place along the precinct and saw the Portuguese forces under Admiral D’Almeida defeated by Khoi pastoralists in 1510. More than a century later, the VOC company arrived and began its own process of land theft, finally resulting in a series of frontier wars and the establishment of the Dutch colony.  

According to O’Donoghue, in the Phase I Heritage Impact Assessment for the River Club, it was “not by accident that the very first VOC farms were located on the best land that the Cape Peninsula had to offer – good grazing and perennial water were as important to the Dutch as the local Khoekhoen.”  Today that dispossession continues as the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) rejected our appeal against the Environmental Authorisation granted to the LLPT to build their massive mixed-use development in a sacred flood plain.

The conversion of the land into a recreational area for white railway workers was a relatively recent phenomenon as was the development of a mashee golf course on the site more recently. As O’Donoghue points out, “historic maps and even early 20th century aerial photographs show that the confluence of the Black and Salt Rivers formed a significant tidal wetland, the functioning of which was destroyed in the 20th century through reclamation of the Culemborg area and development of Paarden Eiland… The character of this part of the Liesbeek River catchment remained rural until well into the 20th century. Valkenberg was converted into a reformatory in the late 19th century but still functioned as a farm during this time. Shortly after this, Valkenberg Hospital was established. By as late as 1937, there were still extensive cultivated lands on the on the East Side of the Liesbeek River. On the west side, suburban development and sports fields had encroached on previously cultivated land.” 

What we know today as the River Club, has a long and deep history, far removed from the Slug and Lettuce pub franchise that currently inhabits the building. It is a history that the DEADP would like to bury.

But, to cite the High Commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Council, Tauriq Jenkins, in their appeal against the EA, “We owe our essence to the Rivers, the stars, the land, and the sacred animals many of which are no longer in existence… This is a place of deep spiritual meaning, and of revolution. This is a nexus of our heritage, our relationship with the stars, the river, and sacred animals. It is where colonial conquest began. And where it was defeated. Ours is a World Heritage site, not the proposed individualised dream of a privatised Idaho with gyms and waterworks. The imposed concrete jungles of the Cape Flats have displaced descendants of the Khoi far from the sense of the river, open space, and animals. In the River Club, 150 000 square meters of concrete bulk is poison to our sacred confluence, poison to our fish, bird life and animals, poison to the soul of this space.”

So, the OCA will be seeking to go to the High Court, with our partners in the Khoi, Civic and NGO communities  to seek a review of the DEADP Environmental Authorisation. We have yet to hear if the City has rejected our appeal on the rezoning. But we will likely challenge that as well, since justice begs that we stand up for what is right, we stand up for the environment, we stand up for heritage protection and we stand up for democracy.

To do so, we need your help and your support – moral and financial. Because going to court will be an expensive business and the opponent will have the cash to spend on very expensive lawyers – cash that comes from our taxes, of course! But if we don’t hold government to account, and ensure it abides by a constitution that promises all who live in South Africa fair administrative decisions and a life of respect and dignity, then we will have failed.

Please join us by donating, however much you can, by going to our fundraising site.

We say no to the concrete on the floodplain, to infill of the river, to the loss of memory to a mall with hotels.

Instead, we listen, respectfully:

    “Did you not hear the hamerkop, when the star fell?

    It came to tell us that our person is dead.”

    ...the hamerkop lives at the water, which is like a pool,

    in which we see all things;

    the things which are in the sky

    we see in the water while we stand on the water’s edge.

    We see all things,

    Dia!kwain (1876)


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