Pretoria - The situation around the contentious Pilgrims Rest town of Mpumalanga was a strange one, Pretoria High Court Judge Stanley Makgoba said on Wednesday.

“This is strange to me. How can a provincial government department own a town?” asked Makgopa as advocate Francois Kriel, for the applicants, started outlining the heads of arguments.

Kriel said the historic gold mining town, which was declared a national monument, was owned and run by the Mpumalanga public works department.

The group of business people, represented by Kriel, is seeking an urgent interdict from the High Court in Pretoria, to prevent their eviction from business premises in Pilgrims Rest.

The evictions are set to be effected by the provincial government at the end of the month. The business owners lease the properties from the provincial public works department.

Kriel said the tendering process, for new lease agreements, was not transparent and was exclusive to the current occupants at Pilgrims Rest.

He cited an instance where a bidder who operated a business in the town and had offered more than R3000, was turned down in favour of a bidder who offered R33 per month rent for the Pilgrims Rest Golf Course.

The provincial department maintains that advertising for the leasing of the buildings was done on a tender bulletin in October last year, and the closing date was November 2011.

Spokesman David Nkambule said leases of all businesses which were on tender had expired.

At the onset of the matter on Wednesday, Judge Stanley Makgoba said he deemed the application made by affected business people as a matter deserving urgency.

After Makgoba's ruling on the urgency, the court started hearing argument from legal representatives of the applicants and respondents. - Sapa