Evictions disturb Pilgrims Rest

By Wiseman Khuzwayo. Time of article published Jul 16, 2012

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Transformation has finally arrived at the historic town of Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga, where 17 out of 22 business tenants have been evicted by the provincial government – their landlord is the provincial department of public works.

But transformation has left a bitter taste in the mouths of those on the receiving end, who will have to vacate their businesses without any compensation from the department of public works.

One of these is Sharon Paterson, the secretary of the Pilgrims Rest Business Chamber. She employs 17 people in her two businesses in this picturesque town and world renowned tourist attraction.

For the past eight years, Paterson has been running the Ponieskrantz Arts and Crafts and the Pilgrim’s Pantry shop, which sells pastries and doubles up as a licensed restaurant.

Her landlord, the department, has told her she must vacate the pantry shop by July 30. The seven women who were working there, and who support 48 people between themselves, are doomed to join the queue of the unemployed.

Paterson had to give them a month’s notice when her tender for the lease of the premises was unsuccessful.

However, she was lucky to be awarded the tender for the arts and craft shop, which manufactures stained glass doors, lamps, chandeliers, hot-glass jewellery and cups.

She believes there were no others bidders because the business requires special skills.

The history of the department owning this tiny village with only one main road running through it is very odd.

The historic gold mining town dates back to the 1800s. At some stage when the mining activity became stopped, the Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA) took over from mining company Barlow Rand.

When the TPA was dissolved in 1994, the town was handed over to the department.

The department has a mandate to provide, manage and maintain Pilgrims Rest, which was declared a heritage site and a national monument in 1986.

It is responsible for the management of the town, as well as the billing on water, electricity, refuse removal, management of businesses and lease agreements.

The department says a budget of more that R4 million has been set aside for the day-to-day maintenance of the town.

It says it advertised the leasing of the buildings in a tender bulletin in October with a closing date of November last year.

The department says the leases of all the businesses that are on tender have expired.

The tender process was finalised last month and the process allowed for a 90-day validity period, with an allowance of an extension where there was a need for one.

During the process, the department says it has to check whether all applicants comply with the Public Finance Management Act, the Preference Procurement Frame Act and tender specifications.

Pasterson says as far as she was aware most of the tenants tendered for their business premises.

The new lease agreements will start on August 1.

A lucky bidder, Susan Khoza, who owns Matletle Construction, has been awarded five business premises, including Paterson’s pantry shop.

Another premise is the golf course, which she rents for a reputed R33 a month.

Another Khoza was less lucky with three leases.

Its only a few days before the unsuccessful bidders have to evacuate but Paterson still has to hear from Susan Khoza, but she has no clue of her whereabouts.

“I want to know if she is going to take over my stuff or if I should leave with it. I am also very concerned about my staff at the restaurant who have been very loyal to me,” Paterson says.

“Even if they take my staff on, what are they going to cook. My food? I am famous for my cappucinos, cheese sauce and chilli sauce. Am I going to be compensated?

“Why should someone get credit for my hard work?”

Silence Mohlala works in Paterson’s pasty shop. Her present boss is her third, as she has worked in the shop for the past 15 years.

She is distraught about her future. Her salary supports her grandma, mother and her two children and sister.

“If I lose my job, how will I live. I have credit accounts and I have to pay school and crèche fees,” she says.

Mohlala is a committee member of the black Concerned Residents Group who went to the department in Nelspruit to hand in a memorandum voicing their objections to the evictions.

But out of all this, Bradley Gerber, the manager of the Royal Hotel, has emerged a happy man. “We did not have to tender. We are owned by the department of public works. We are its caretakers,” he says.

Which makes one wonder why a government should own a hotel, or a whole town, in the first place.

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