The Mpumalanga Department of Public Works had 30 days from last Thursday to submit the tender documents on which it had deprived businesses in Pilgrim’s Rest of their occupation, the lawyer for the businesses said this week after the North Gauteng High Court interdicted the provincial government on the same day.

Peter Steenkamp said he would then apply to the court to have the documents assessed in a review.

The department maintained that the leases on the premises had expired and had been advertised and awarded through a tender process.

Judge Stanley Makgoba criticised the tender process for new tenants that was followed by the provincial authorities, which own of the historic gold mining town.

“I have to say this whole process is a sham, it just cannot work. The second respondent (Mpumalanga public works MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu) is hereby restrained from evicting the applicants pending a review of the whole system,” Makgoba said.

“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 of the Republic of South Africa,” he said.

Makgoba said it was an uncontested fact that the group of business people leased the properties from the provincial authorities. Some had been using the facilities for about 40 years.

“It is in the interest of the public that the present occupants of the buildings… continue to occupy and serve the community,” he said.

“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,” he said.

The premises and the town are owned by the Mpumalanga Public Works Department, which said: “The department notes and respects the judgement. However, we still regard the matter as sub judice since it will now proceed to a review application or applications. The department will comment after review proceedings have been concluded.”

Anthony Benadie, the leader of the DA in the legislature and who has been campaigning for the tenants, said the interdict, temporary as it might be, flew in the face of the provincial government’s arrogance and unwillingness to engage with all stakeholders. It was also a resounding victory for business owners and more than 130 workers whose families would have been left destitute had the evictions gone ahead.

He added: “The DA believes that many lessons were learnt during this crisis but is of the opinion that responsibility and accountability have to be shouldered. To this end, the head of department, Mr Kgopane Mohlasedi, as accounting officer, must be held fully responsible for the non-transparent process as well as the ill-treatment and ruthless eviction notices served on those who did not deserve them.”

Sharon Paterson and her staff at the Pilgrim’s Pantry, in Pilgrim’s Rest, celebrated with a bottle of champagne as soon as they heard the news that the court had interdicted the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works from evicting them from their restaurant.

“We are all very happy. We now need a lease so that we can go forward,” said Paterson, who is also the secretary of the Pilgrim’s Rest Business Chamber.

Steenkamp, an attorney who is representing the group of business people operating in the old gold mining town, 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,” he said.

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.