- Activists in South Africa asked MacKenzie Scott to help them block Amazon from building on sacred lands.
- Indigenous Khoi leaders say Amazon’s planned Africa headquarters would have harmful environmental and cultural impacts.
- The group also wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but said he hasn’t responded.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Barely two years after Amazon faced backlash over its elaborate public search for a “second” headquarters, the company’s plans to build its Africa headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, are coming under fire.
This time, indigenous activists and other local community groups have criticized Amazon’s plans to set up its new campus on land that is environmentally and culturally sacred to the first nation Khoi people.
One of those groups, the Observatory Civic Association, is turning to a high-profile source for help in their fight to block the Amazon-led development: MacKenzie Scott, who divorced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2019.
“We appeal to you to intervene to bring Amazon to its senses,” OCA chairperson Leslie London wrote in an open letter to Scott, adding: “If you wish to assist our struggle for justice in the courts, we will welcome your financial assistance.”
London said the group, which has partnered with more than 60 Khoi and other NGOs and civic groups, also wrote to Bezos, but that he didn’t respond.
Scott and Bezos could not be reached, and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
The backlash concerns a planned mixed-use development in Cape Town called The River Club, which would span roughly 37 acres, with Amazon set to be the main tenant, according to South African news site IOL. While Cape Town city officials approved an initial concept for the project, it has faced fierce criticism from many native Khoi groups, according to the OCA’s letter and various media reports.
London wrote in her letter the proposed development disregards the history of the land, where the Khoi fought against colonial expeditions and land grabs by the Portuguese and Dutch.
“We think [Scott] can influence Bezos and Amazon to avoid making the biggest business mistake of their lives. Amazon will forever and irrevocably be associated with modern-day colonial dispossession,” London told IOL.
Other tech billionaires, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have faced criticism for attempts to acquire land originally occupied by indigenous people, with critics calling such moves examples of “neocolonialism.”
But the OCA said Amazon’s proposed headquarters also poses serious environmental concerns and would violate Cape Town’s established climate resilience policies, since it would involve pouring 150,000 square metres of concrete into a flood plain. (Concrete infilling can exacerbate the flood damage caused by heavy storms, for example, like what happened in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey).
The proposal as it currently stands, London wrote, “must surely be of deep concern to anyone who believes in a world where environmental protection, justice and heritage, particularly for First Nation groups, should be adequately considered in development decisions.”