Pilgrim's Rest lease 'threats'
The public protector has been urged to investigate the contentious awarding of leases in Pilgrim's Rest, Mpumalanga, where shop owners and other businesspeople ordered to vacate their premises by government officials allege that they have been threatened.
Earlier this month, The Times reported that the awarding of multiple leases to each of the five bidders cast suspicion over the tendering.
Seventeen shop owners were each given notice on June 29 to vacate their premises by the end of this month to make way for new tenants.
Freedom Front Plus spokesman on economic affairs Anton Alberts said the party wanted public protector Thuli Madonsela to determine whether all statutory requirements were adhered to in the awarding of the leases.
Alberts said his party was "disturbed" by shop owners' claims that they had not received a response to their tender applications since November.
"It also appears that some of the tenants have been threatened by government officials that they would be removed from the properties if they did not vacate the premises by the end of the month," he said.
Pilgrim's Rest Golf Club manager Henry van Niekerk claimed "aggressive" Public Works officials who delivered the eviction notice threatened him with violence, allegedly saying: "Blow by blow, we are going to blow you away."
Alberts said he would complain to the Human Rights Commission "if our own investigation finds that the department acted in a racist manner".
The public protector's spokesman, Kgalalelo Masibi, said the request to investigate was received on Tuesday.
"The complaint is in the process of assessment to determine jurisdiction and whether there are grounds for investigation," she said.
The DA in the province is taking legal advice with the intention of making a court application to stop the process.
The party has appealed to the Mpumalanga Heritage Agency to intervene "in the impending shutdown of the tourist town of Pilgrim's Rest on 31 July".
Provincial DA leader Anthony Benadie said the agency was obliged to act in cases in which a heritage site was under threat.
"The DA spoke to the agency . and was told that while there are concerns about the ongoing viability of the town, the agency will only act after an economic collapse and not before it," he said.
Mpumalanga department of public works, roads and transport spokesman David Nkambule said the tendering process was "fair and open".
He said a high-level departmental delegation visited the existing shop owners in September and told them that their leases had expired and that they would have to tender for new leases.
"We were not even bound to let them know that we have advertised. It was out of courtesy because, between a landlord and a tenant, when the lease has expired you get a notice and that is it.
"The tendering process started in October and closed in November," he said.
"Every one was given a chance to bid. Some tendered and some did not. The talks about people losing their jobs is a presumption," he said.
Nkambule said the new owners should be given a chance to prove themselves, saying the conditions of their leases stipulated that the contracts could be terminated if they did not have capital or the necessary licences to run the businesses.