Government orders shops to close
Staff won't have jobs by the end of the month
THE tourism town of Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga is reeling with shock and uncertainty after 17 businesses were ordered to pack up and close by the end of the month.
The businesses were issued with eviction notices last Friday by the provincial department of Public Works, Roads and Transport, giving business owners 31 days to close shop and telling their staff that they won’t have jobs by the end of the month.
The historic gold mining town dating back to the 1800’s was declared a National Monument in 1986, with its original architecture largely unchanged. The town is owned and run by the Department of Public Works and business owners lease the properties.
Tourism is the backbone of the small town’s economy, providing employment to residents of the local Schoonplaas township.
According to owner of Ponieskrantz Arts and Craft shop as well as the Pilgrim’s Pantry shop Sharon Paterson, business owners in town started receiving eviction notices on Friday.
“My staff is very worried. Everybody in Pilgrim’s Rest is totally devastated and in shock ... I cannot move my stuff in a month, I have so much stuff with Pilgrim’s Rest written on it, how am I going to recoup what I have spent?,” Paterson said.
She said she was in an “absolute state” because she had to give notices of termination of employment to her 50 staff-members.
Paterson has been running the two shops in down town Pilgrim’s Rest for the past 20 years, employs a team of creative staff manufacturing stained glass doors, lamps, chandeliers and hot glass jewellery.
Public works, roads and transport spokesman Dumisa Malamule confirmed that 17 tenants had been issued with eviction notices.
He said the department advertised the leasing of the buildings on tender bulletin in October last year and the closing date was in November last year.
“The leases of all business which were on tender had expired. The whole tender process was finalised in June 2012 as the process allowed for a 90 day validity period with an allowance of extension when there is a need,” he said.
Paterson said they tendered for the leases in November last year but said since then they have heard nothing from Public Works. She said the department kept on postponing the announcement of the winning tenders, leaving them in a lurch.
“We were then told that the announcement would be made in June 9 but now we are told to leave in 31 days,” she added.
Furious Pilgrims Rest Golf Club Manager Henry van Niekerk said he was shocked when three “aggressive” public works officials rocked up with a four-sentence letter noticing them to vacate the Golf Course by the end of the month without any explanation.
“I refused to sign for the letter and told them that I work for a consortium running the Golf Course and referred them to the chairman of the committee but one of the officials became more aggressive and said ‘Blow by blow, we are going to blow you away’.
“I told them to f...off. This sounds like a war and I am now scared,” he said.
Royal Hotel manager Chris Auty said they have not been affected by the leases fracas, saying they run the hotel on behalf of government. “We did not receive any eviction notice and we would not want to make any comment on this issue as we are not directly affected,” he said.
Pilgrim’s Rest Tourism officer Sherry Goodwin, who also sits in the local Chamber of Business, said she believed that the motivation behind the whole thing was to transform the economy of the town to include previously disadvantaged community; “...which is probably a good thing but change is not always accepted happily.
"I do feel for people that are employed here."