BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe – Amazon arrived in South Africa in 2004, increased its workforce in the country to 4,000, which then grew to 7,000 in 2020, then in February this year announced another round of deals employment.
To house a staff that has become one of the largest in southern Africa, Amazon has launched the construction of a headquarters in Cape Town, a $270 million project intended to be the company’s business center on the continent.
In March, a judge blocked the project after encountering local resistance because construction was to begin on land that houses the Khoisana group of people whose traditions date back to pre-colonial times.
“We are aware that Amazon intends to invest millions of dollars in the project, but for us the real value of the land in question is the blood of our ancestors,” said Anthony Phillips Williams, coordinator of the Indigenous First Nation Advocacy South Africa, the Khoisan community organizers oppose the Amazon project. “We are ready to take the case to the Constitutional Court.”
The decision was the latest speed bump for American tech companies looking to expand their footprint in emerging markets overseas – and a reflection of growing skepticism towards American behemoths across the African continent.
In recent months, Meta employees in Kenya have sued the company, alleging unsafe working conditions; Uber drivers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa went on strike calling for stricter regulation of the ride-sharing industry; and Amazon workers in South Africa have joined strikes demanding higher wages, which have taken place in 24 other countries.
American tech companies have grown exponentially on the African continent over the past two decades. Facebook saw an increase of users in Africa even though a growing share of the population of the countries of the North has offline the social media site; of the 330 million Internet users across Africa, nearly half have Facebook accounts. Uber has more than 12,000 active drivers across South Africa, working in around 40 cities the company said it represents 80% of the country’s urban population. Amazon has built data centers in South Africa, hired IT engineers and customer service operators, and in recent years has begun looking to construct a building to house its employees in the country.
The Cape Town headquarters project was the clearest mark of the company’s plans to further expand its reach in Southern Africa. But the land he chose turned out to be valued both for environmental reasons and for its historical significance.
Action Campaign Liesbeek, the local group behind the campaign to block the project, described the location as “a hub for Cape Town’s green corridor, sensitive native plant and animal life, as well as a remembrance site for the First Nation”. community and all of South Africa – associated with Khoi ritual and resistance since 1510.”
The land was the site of Khoisan battles against Portuguese invaders in the 16th century, one of the earliest known anti-colonial efforts of the world era. Activists say the proposed infilling of the Liesbeek River as part of the development would threaten long-term harm to the surrounding ecosystem by reducing the amount of groundwater.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
The Cape Town high court ordered Amazon to consult with the Khoi people before moving forward with the project.
“The fundamental right to culture and heritage of Indigenous groups,” wrote Justice Patricia Goliath, “are threatened in the absence of proper consultation.”