Pretoria - The applicants of an urgent court interdict barring the Mpumalanga authorities from carrying out evictions in Pilgrims Rest were excited about Thursday's court victory.

An attorney representing the group of business people operating in the old gold mining town, Pieter Steenkamp, said there was still a long legal wrangle ahead.

“Of course we are very happy about the judgment that was granted. This is but a small victory at this point, we still have a long way to go,” said Steenkamp.

On Thursday, the High Court in Pretoria issued an order restraining the Mpumalanga provincial government from evicting occupants of Pilgrims Rest business premises.

The order, issued by Judge Stanley Makgoba, stated that the tender process taken by the provincial authorities was “a sham” and could not go ahead.

Steenkamp said the ruling secured employment for a number of people.

“Imagine the people who were all supposed to vacate the business premises on August 1. Their employees would become jobless,” he said.

“In respect of the whole town and everyone in it, we are extremely happy. Not only would the employees have suffered but their children, families and everybody else. The residents would have had to drive 60km to find a tank of petrol (as the petrol station was facing eviction),” he said.

The judge ordered the respondents, including Mpumalanga public works MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu, to furnish the applicants with the documents relating to the flawed tender process so that adjudication could begin.

“We have already requested those documents. The state needs to furnish us with those documents so that adjudication can begin on the transparency of the tendering process,” said Steenkamp.

The Mpumalanga public works department owns and runs the historic town, which has been declared a national monument.

The disgruntled group of business people leased the properties from the provincial authorities. Some had been using the facilities for about 40 years.

Giving his judgment, Makgoba said it was in the public's interest to let the current occupiers continue with their operations in the small town.

He said the province's tender process to get new tenants was not done in accordance with the system that is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive, (and) cost effective, as required in the Constitution of South Africa.

The judge expressed concern that the new tenants who had been given the tenders to occupy the premises from August, did not have the legal requirements to carry out business in Pilgrims Rest.

“It is worth mentioning that I have discovered that there are Khoza sisters, part of the respondents, who have been awarded eight tenders. There is no evidence to prove whether they have the capabilities to operate and run businesses being run by the applicants.

“None of the respondents (people given the tenders) have filed any affidavit to explain to me whether they have that capability or the means to operate the businesses,” he said.

The judge slammed the provincial authorities, saying they had not handled the aggrieved occupants' lease agreements in good faith.

“Irrespective of their occupying the buildings for so many years, almost all the present occupiers' were not awarded the tenders. Instead, outsiders from the town got the business leases,” said Makgoba.

After the judgement, municipal spokesman David Nkambule said he would be guided by the outcome of a review process ordered by the judge.

“We respect the judgment and we feel that matter is (still) sub judice. It would be premature for us to comment on the merits and demerits of the case,” he said. - Sapa