Did Lee-Ann Liebenberg hang up her stilettos for nothing?
It was the grand opening Cape Town's glitterati had been waiting for - and waiting and waiting. But celebrity businessman Nicky van der Walt and his model wife Lee-Ann Liebenberg will not be unveiling the new Ritz Hotel on the Atlantic Seaboard any time soon.
The Ritz Plaza - which owns the property - has approached the High Court in Cape Town to have the hotel's management company liquidated. The management company is renting the property.
Last year Van der Walt and Liebenberg revealed that she had swapped her stilettos for a work suit to help him turn the hotel into a jewel. The hotel's revolving restaurant had once been referred to as a stranded UFO and it had not attracted many visitors. To bring back some shine‚ the couple secured celebrated South African chef Bertus Basson to run the flagship restaurant‚ while Black Coffee was signed as a resident DJ.
But on Monday Van der Walt was crammed into court 29 with 60 hotel employees. About 47 workers‚ represented by SATAWU‚ went to court to join as a party in the liquidation proceedings. Advocate Lance Burger‚ acting for SATAWU‚ told acting judge Taswell Papier that "many if not all the workers will starve if they don't find jobs".
The union needs time to consider their options.
Papier then ordered that the proceedings be postponed until December 14 for the union to come to a decision on what to do.
Van der Walt said that they are hoping to finish construction and refurbishment by December.
"We've been in a dispute with the landlord of Ritz Plaza since last year because he delayed us last year and we would have opened in December last year. He brought an application which we opposed. We are busy with restructuring. Obviously we have SATAWU on our side and we also have some of the contractors on our side. It's in no one's interest to grant liquidation‚" said Van der Walt.
"We are busy building..We've been working very hard."
SATAWU regional secretary Crosby Booi welcomed the postponement saying they were concerned about job security‚ especially for some of the older workers - some of whom have worked at the hotel for nearly 30 years.
"We are worried about job losses because for every one worker there are 10 dependents‚" said Booi.
Van der Walt said they continued to pay their workers during the renovations.
Last year the Sunday Times reported that Liebenberg and Van der Walt‚ CEO of the luxury hospitality group Shimmy Luxury Collection and owner of the popular Shimmy Beach Club‚ pumped R110-million into glamming up the hotel.
“We spend time between building a hotel‚ developing SLC and having children. There is not much time for modelling. This is far more exciting for me‚'' Liebenberg told the Sunday Times.
“The Ritz is our baby. I will be doing the flowers. I have always wanted to be a florist and this has given me a chance to start my own business.”