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29 March 2022 - On the surface, the opposition to the development of the River Club property in Observatory, Cape Town appears to be a cultural, grass-roots movement. In reality, the radical left is behind it.

I have to confess some bias in contextualising this thoroughly amazing reaction to a High Court order granting a temporary interdict against the multibillion-rand River Club development in Observatory, Cape Town. Reading the judge’s reasons for granting the order (and having covered the High Courts both here and in London for several years), I couldn’t help thinking the locus standi given to the objectors by the deputy judge president was a bit rich. Here Ivo Vegter, writing in the Daily Friend, digs down on both the actual objectors cited and their ilk, to great effect. A cost-benefit exercise on the most reasonable metrics exposes a no-brainer. Thousands more people and the environment (perhaps not entirely aesthetically), will benefit and less than a handful will suffer any loss. That handful, Vegter argues, are historically disadvantaged, lower-income ‘fronters’ whose anger and resentment have been redirected towards a cause driven by the radical left whose ascendancy has been swift since the advent of a ruling socialist government. You decide. – Chris Bateman

Ivo Vegter

On the surface, the opposition to the development of the River Club property in Observatory, Cape Town appears to be a cultural, grass-roots movement. In reality, the radical left is behind it.

When I first covered the campaign against the redevelopment of the River Club property in Observatory, Cape Town, to host a mixed-use development anchored by Amazon’s new South African headquarters, I blamed ‘activist obstructionism’ by ‘the environmental movement or ‘concerned citizens’ for sabotaging economic growth and job creation.

All of the arguments I made in that column – that the site constitutes, in its entirety, a nine-hole golf course with a driving range, restaurant and bar, to which no indigenous people had ever laid claim; that at least some of the organisations protesting against the development were created long after the development was announced; that the activists presented no evidence the land had either present or historical significance to them; that the City of Cape Town conducted extensive environmental, heritage and socio-economic assessments; and that the developers consulted extensively with local First Nations – remain valid.

It was therefore with some astonishment that I read about the ruling by Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath of the Western Cape Division of the High Court (a ruling which I could not find published online at the time of writing, and which court officials could not provide before my deadline).

The ruling temporarily suspended the River Club redevelopment project and ordered the developer, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, to undertake “meaningful engagement and consultation” with unspecified members of the Khoisan people.

It is with considerable relief and anticipation, then, that I read a few days later the developers are planning a robust fight-back against the ridiculous claims, such as that the land is where ceremonies are held (as if any other golf course wouldn’t do) and that the golf course is undeveloped grazing land the Khoekhoe people use for their cattle, which a glance at a satellite map will quickly reveal is a total fabrication.

Only the truly naïve would believe the ‘indigenous people’ groups, which are commonly corralled to front protests against economic development, are not puppets for hidden agendas. Behind them one can usually find a phalanx of environmental rights lawyers and elitist ‘concerned citizens’.

But who are these concerned citizens, and why would they want to block a development in their neighbourhood that attracts foreign and domestic investment to the area, will create thousands of jobs, will dramatically improve the quality of the polluted environment, and turn a run-down, low-value nine-hole golf course into an upmarket mixed-use development that will inevitably improve property prices?

In this case, the links point to a cabal of radical left-wingers. In a guilt-by-association chain, one can (albeit a little tenuously) get all the way to an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) snappily named The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity, or Global Campaign, for short.

While some of its goals should resonate with classical liberals – such as fighting corporate human rights abuses, ending cronyism and corruption between big business and governments, and protecting the environment – a brief glance at its International Treaty on the Control of Transnational Corporations (a treaty which, thankfully, nobody has signed) confirms this is nothing more than an anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation campaign by a bunch of deluded radical socialists.

It’s the Battle of Seattle and Occupy Wall Street lot, a decade or two later, but not a day wiser.

Among their slogans are ‘dismantle corporate power’ and ‘stop the plunder, Africa is not for sale’. For people of a similar radical left-wing persuasion, Amazon represents corporate power, its proposed employment of African people amounts to ‘exploitation’, and its profits would constitute ‘plunder’. Hence, the development of its new South African headquarters must be blocked by any means necessary.

And since the courts in South Africa appear to be hyper-sensitive to supernatural claims about sacred land and sea, that means co-opting people from poor communities to turn their unsophisticated anger against capitalist development projects.

Guilt by association
I can’t say for sure that Global Campaign is involved, or even aware, of the specific River Club case – and let’s be honest, it probably isn’t – but let’s start tracing the links anyway.

The Transnational Institute (TNI), another major international NGO, is “an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world”.

“For nearly 50 years,” it says, “TNI has served as a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.”

It campaigns against things like free trade. Its corporate power project “develops analysis and proposals on how to end corporate impunity and dismantle corporate power”.

Given that wording, it is no surprise that TNI is “a lead facilitator of the international movement Stop Corporate Impunity [that is, Global Campaign] and supports international efforts to establish binding international legal obligations for TNCs [transnational corporations]”.

TNI recommends the work of the Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC), a South African NGO which “was formed in 1996 in response to the democratic transition in South Africa and the new opportunities and challenges it brought those seeking greater social justice within the democracy”.

(This is the weakest link in the chain. Sceptics should ignore my references to TNI and Global Campaign altogether, although I think they serve a useful illustrative purpose of like-minded and supportive organisations.)

The AIDC is a left-wing economic think tank funded by an array of left-wing groups including Oxfam and George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. It bases its socialist political economy views on the mistaken analysis of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. It blames South Africa’s extraordinary unemployment on the profit-taking of capitalism, despite the fact the country has a socialist government that controls half the economy, and in successful countries, capitalism does not fuel unemployment at all.

Clearly, its references to ‘alternative information’ and ‘alternative knowledge’ are a far-left echo of the ‘alternative facts’ of the far right.

It busies itself with subjects like the ‘working class resistance to austerity’, opposing the unbundling of Eskom on the grounds that it is a prelude to privatisation, and the ‘perils and pitfalls of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement’.

In 2008, the AIDC merged with Amandla Media, which founded Amandla magazine as ‘a left-wing media project’ in 2006. The goal was to create “an open non-sectarian space wherein progressive perspectives are analysed, debated, and people are engaged to take an informed stance towards the critical issues confronting humanity in the context of the multi-dimensional crisis of civilisation”.

Say that with a mouth full of delicious transnational corporation snacks!

The ‘non-sectarian’ part is particularly funny, since the sectarian label ‘progressive’ appears a mere two words later. Amandla very much is a partisan publication. Among its latest headlines, you can find sectarian nuggets of exciting anti-capitalist cogitation such as What do we mean by ECO-FEMINIST-SOCIALISM? (their shouty caps, not mine).

That article was written by a member of Amandla magazine’s rather large advisory board. On that board, you will find old communists and socialist luminaries such as Jeremy Cronin, Vishwas Satgar, Willie Madisha, Noam Chomsky, Yunus Carrim and Ferial Haffajee. Also on that board, hobnobbing with the crème de la crème of the radical left, is a UCT professor (it’s always the academics, isn’t it?) by the name of Leslie London. He takes a particular interest in inequality and the politics of health.

He once penned a paper entitled Hydraulic fracturing in shale gas extraction: Public Health challenges for South Africa. It seems to have disappeared from the internet, but I would be surprised if Prof. London knew anything more about fracking than what he learnt from tendentious, partisan documentaries such as Josh Fox’s polemic, Gasland.

That paper does, however, establish his credentials as an anti-development activist, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to find Prof. London is the chair of the Observatory Civic Association, which also employs Tauriq Jenkins, a professional left-wing activist whom News24 describes as “a spokesman for the indigenous people’s Goringhaicona Khoena Council”.

Reds under the bed
Those two organisations, the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, were the applicants in the case against the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust.

Of course, all these links are little more than guilt by association, but they do substantiate the view that professional activists and far-left agitators are behind the obstructionism, and that their motive is simply to thwart capitalist development in South Africa, regardless of the benefits, progress, profit and paying jobs they destroy in the process.

Dig deep enough, and there really are reds under the bed.

Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. Follow him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.
This article was first published on the Daily Friend.