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Tribunal makes scathing finding against City in River Club case

The River Club lies behind the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary Nature Reserve. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The River Club lies behind the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary Nature Reserve. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 16, 2020

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Cape Town – An independent tribunal has found against the City and provincial authorities, which spent two years on “fruitless and wasteful contestations” in opposing heritage protection granted to The River Club and Two Rivers Urban Park area.

Developers on Tuesday lost an appeal against the provisional protection of The River Club, following a decision by Heritage Western Cape (HWC) that took place in 2018.

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After numerous hearings, the provincial Department of Cultural Affairs

and Sports’ ministerial independent tribunal dismissed the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust’s appeal, with the City and two provincial departments as appellants.

The proposed R4 billion redevelopment of The River Club in Observatory was to include shops, restaurants, offices, a hotel and school.

Civic organisations and heritage activists who opposed the development argued it would destroy the 100-year-old floodplain at the Two Rivers Urban Park, where three rivers converge.

It was also argued that apart from having indigenous flora and fauna, it was the cremation ground of the early Quena (Otentottu) people.

It was also understood that Jan van Riebeeck used the river as South Africa’s first border to bar indigenous people from entering their lands.

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In his judgment, tribunal chair Ashraf Mahomed said one could argue that the past two years could have been spent on a better understanding of all the heritage issues that were at stake and allow the HWC to fast-track and conclude any ongoing heritage investigations unhindered by “political posturing”.

“Instead, it seems to have been spent on fruitless and wasteful contestations, that appear to have been driven mainly by the third respondent (the Department of Transport and Public Works, acting Two Rivers Urban Park programme manager) and the fourth appellant (the executive mayor’s office); they did not serve the interests of their department, the CoCT, or the public interest and their conduct warrants review and censure, where appropriate.”

The trustees of the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust said yesterday that given the provisional protection would expire in mere days, the decision was ultimately a moot one.

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“It is disappointing and astonishing that the tribunal appears to have ignored both legal precedent and the detailed representations made by the majority of First Nations leaders during the hearings.”

The trustees said the recession the country faced, now amplified by the Covid-19 crisis, had highlighted the urgent need for the proposed R4bn project at The River Club.

“We will continue to follow all current legislative application processes that are under way in respect of the proposed River Club redevelopment project.

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“In this regard, the final basic assessment report (BAR) was submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Planning on April 6, which will now be considered and decided on.”

Aboriginal/Xarra Restorative Justice Forum chair Tauriq Jenkins described the decision as a “stroke of restorative justice”.

“The result is both as material as it

is symbolic, in that although the

protection order expires in 14 days,

the reason for it being investigated is

emboldened. The heritage argument

is now uncontested.” 

Jenkins, also high commissioner

of the Goringhaicona Khoena

Council, said: “We will now work

towards permanent heritage

protection on a provincial, national

and even world heritage site. It’s a

place we can walk with our children

and say, ‘we started all this'.” 

Mayco member for spatial

planning and environment Marian

Nieuwoudt said the City had noted,

and was studying, the tribunal’s

ruling. “The City’s appeal related to

procedural fairness.” 

The provincial Department

of Environmental Affairs and

Development Planning did not

respond to requests for comment. 

The ANC, which was an

interested and affected party to

the appeal, thanked its provincial

Legal Monitoring and Security Task

Team, led by advocates Hishaam

Mohammed and Winston Erasmus,

and attorney Donovan Sam. 

ANC provincial convener Lerumo

Kalako said: “This province wants to

always roll out a red carpet to certain

developers and never open the door

to the majority, who are working class and poor.”

Cape Times

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