Petition update

The Heritage Appeal Tribunal concludes protection of the River Club site essential – Loud and Clear

Leslie London
Cape Town, South Africa

Apr 17, 2020 — 

Apologies for the long silence but life on this globe has taken a turn we never previously anticipated. Our global community is challenged by an epidemic we could not have imagined 3 months ago at the height of our campaigns on the River Club.  But just as solidarity has shown how the voice of ordinary people can change the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, so, too, can collective solidarity bring victories to communities and first nations struggling for justice over the River Club.

On the 14 April 2020, after almost two years of wrangling, the Ministerial Appeal Tribunal considering the appeal by the River Club Developers (and supported by the City of Cape Town, and two provincial departments - DEADP and DTPW) came to a thunderous conclusion – that the Appeal had no merit and that the HWC decision “to provisionally protect the resource in terms of section 29 of the NHRA is upheld and shall remain in force. The appeal is therefore dismissed.”   You can read the full directive here.

In dismissing the appeal, the Tribunal directive rebutted all of the Appellants’ arguments.  For example, the “effect of delaying development somewhat” was described as a “small price to pay, considering the benefits and gains of conducting a proper heritage assessment of the conservation needs and investigating the protection of heritage resources.” One of the key arguments by the Appellants was that there was already a process under Section 38 of the National Heritage Resources Act which should preclude any provisional protection (under Section 29 of the National Heritage Resources Act) because a parallel process would be a fruitless duplication of functions and wasteful expenditure. The Tribunal found there was no merit in this argument – in law, one process does not preclude another.

So, the Tribunal came down firmly in support of recognizing the very high heritage significance of the site and for the need to investigate prior to any development decisions being made. It also recognized that, despite its shortcomings, the processes gave First nation peoples and communities a voice to articulate their case for heritage conservation and protection for the first time. In that it was historic.

The Tribunal directive also noted how “political posturing” and “alliances” involving different government entities and the developers had soured the process. It drew attention to the fact that some public officials “did not serve the interests of their departments, the CoCT or the public interest and their conduct warrants review and censure, where appropriate.” Scarce resources, the directive said, should be used to “cooperatively solve complicated heritage issues cooperatively” which did not occur. It also made reference to the divide and rule tactics at play in the process. 

These are all very powerful statements and we hope this will be a lesson to all concerned, those holding public office and those with resources to spend on endless legal obstruction, that justice will win in the end.  We live in a Constitutional democracy which allows for all views to be put on the table but not for some to count more than others because of access to power or money.

The process is not over because the Basic Assessment Report must still be considered by DEADP. However, given the very clear evidence that the HIA in support of this development was fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with the National Heritage Resources Act, a position articulated by Heritage Western Cape, we believe this development cannot go any further.

During COVID-19, it's a time of deep introspection about what we are as a society and how we unite to solve common problems. Let’s hope this spirit continues after the COVID-19 restrictions are eased so that we can resolve the heritage challenges related to TRUP and the River Club in the same spirit.

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