The high court in Pretoria on Thursday issued an order restraining the Mpumalanga provincial government from evicting occupants of Pilgrim's Rest business premises. Judge Stanley Makgoba said the tender process to obtain new tenants had not been transparent and inclusive. "I came to realise that the tenders awarded are marred with controversy and taken with some measure of illegality. There is prima facie evidence that the awarding of the tenders was not made in accordance with the system that is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive, [and] cost effective, as required in the constitution," Judge Makgoba said. "It is in the interest of the public that the present occupants of the buildings who are operating there continue to occupy and serve the community," said Judge Makgoba. "The applicants have made a good case for a review of the awarding of the tenders. I hereby give judgment in favour of the applicants."
Business people of the sleepy historic gold mining town, represented by advocate Francois Kriel, approached the court after being served with notices to vacate the premises this month end. Adv Kriel said on Wednesday the historic gold-mining town, which has been declared a national monument, was owned and run by the provincial department. At that point, the judge interrupted: "This is strange to me. How can a provincial government department own a town?" Adv Kriel also told the court there were irregularities in the way the tendering for the new leases was done by the Mpumalanga government. The process had not been transparent and excluded the current occupants, he said. He cited an instance where a bidder who operated a business in the town and had offered more than R3000 a month in rent for the Pilgrim's Rest Golf Course was turned down in favour of a bidder who offered R33 per month. For the respondents, advocate Ignatius Bredenkamp SC said the business people had been duly informed to vacate the premises by the provincial authority and should do so.
The respondents cited in the court papers included Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi and Mpumalanga public works, roads and transport MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu. Adv Bredenkamp argued that as the occupants used the premises on a month-to-month basis, the notice of eviction served on June 29 should be considered valid. There was contention around the group's lease agreements, which they had signed in 2008 with an expiry date of 2013. Adv Bredenkamp could not explain why the provincial government had backdated the leases to 2004. Judge Makgoba asked Adv Bredenkamp why the Mpumalanga government had put the premises out to tender while there were still businesses occupying the properties. He also questioned the rationale of bringing in new businesses and removing the current ones, which had specialised licences to trade in items such as fuel and liquor. "I did not get a guarantee anywhere that the people that are coming in have the requisite licences," the judge said. "Certain goods require special licences. I think you are putting me in a difficult position here." - Business Day