Pilgrims Rest

 PILGRIMS REST IN EVICTION CRISIS

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MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE MPUMALANGA HISTORICAL INTEREST GROUP, RE: EVICTION CRISIS

 

The recently formed Mpumalanga Historical Interest Group, which already represents more than 300 interested and affected parties, wishes to add its voice to the many protests which have gone up concerning the Pilgrim’s Rest situation.

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The Mpumalanga Historical Interest Group believes that the situation at Pilgrim’s Rest is only a symptom of the deeper malaise affecting this province’s cultural and historical heritage.

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We have watched with concern the steady slide into dereliction of many of the province’s cultural and historical heritage sites. One only has to look at the apparent neglect of museums such as Botshabelo, our listed heritage structures, cultural centres and even the recently completed Samora Machel monument site to find proof of this.

 

Despite efforts by Premier DD Mabuza’s predecessor, Mr Thabang Makwetla, to capitalise on Mpumalanga’s rich cultural heritage and develop cultural tourism as a means of job creation, the past few years have seen dwindling budgets allocated to the preservation and development of Mpumalanga’s heritage sites and museums. Several projects of cultural and historical significance have been placed on hold or cancelled due to lack of funding by provincial government. We have also noted the slow progress in the establishment of the Provincial Archive and the steady loss of important historical government archive material over the past decade.

 

As a watchdog body, the Mpumalanga Historic Interest Group intends launching its own investigation into the state of Mpumalanga’s heritage in an effort to bring more issues in this regard to the attention of the Mpumalanga government.  We also intend petitioning national and provincial government to investigate this gross mismanagement of our national and provincial historical assets.

 

As for Pilgrim’s Rest, while we understand that transformation is part of government policy, we have noted with serious concern the bureaucratic and irresponsible way the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport has sounded the death knell for its dedicated business concerns and their employees.

 

The sad state of dereliction and decay in the infrastructure of Pilgrim’s Rest must be laid squarely at the door of Public Works, as it has not fulfilled its mandate - the maintenance of infrastructure and administration of the museum village - for many years. This is contrary to the Public Finance Management Act of 1999 which requires all spheres of government to optimally utilize and maintain government assets in order to generate the required income through market-related leases and after a transparent tender process.

 

If it was not for the loyal residents of Pilgrim's Rest, regional tourism would have been in a worse state than it already is. Now provincial government has given eviction notices to those individuals who have carried the town over the years - with multiple tenders awarded to unknown companies with unknown track records.

MEC DIKELEDI MAHLANGU and the Head of Department, Mr. KGOPANA MOHLASEDI, need to be answerable to the broader South African public for this situation.

 

Other provincial departments involved in Pilgrim's Rest such as the Department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism have been equally derelict in their duty towards Pilgrim's Rest as a heritage site. These departments have also made little to no effort to at least maintain Pilgrim's Rest as the major regional tourist attraction it once was - despite the many development plans discussed and announced in Legislature and the media.

 

As an interest group and citizens of this country, we would like to receive an answer from provincial government why it had let the situation deteriorate to the extent that we stand to lose an entire museum village. Taken against the government's policy of job creation and economic development and the high unemployment rate in the Thaba Chweu municipal area, it makes no sense why the livelihoods of so many people have been placed at risk in such a cavalier manner.

 

The MHIG appeals to the Premier of Mpumalanga, Mr. D.D. Mabuza, to intervene in this decision of the PWD and to form a commission of enquiry into the manner in which Pilgrim's Rest is managed as a matter of urgency. We, as the public of Mpumalanga, also request feedback in an open and transparent manner.

We would also like to request the premier to broaden this commission of enquiry to investigate the broader dereliction and mismanagement of Mpumalanga’s cultural heritage by all the departments responsible. Please save our province’s history now – before it is too late.

 

ISSUED BY THE INTERIM COMMITTEE OF THE MPUMALANGA HISTORICAL INTEREST GROUP
DATE:                                    11 July 2012
ENQUIRIES:                         Win Saunders winkat@mweb.co.za  Cell 083 462 6187
                                                Duncan Ballantyne Cell 082329 7105

We will update developments as they unfold in this saga of governmental take over and evictions of a rich historical heritage site such as Pilgrims Rest without proper and competent management structures in place. There is an urgent need to make the public who share in the concern over the mishandling of this saga aware on a day to day basis. We have the cooperation and help of Lowveld Media, The Lowvelder and that of Routes & Destinations – currently hosting the Interest Group and look local Lowveld. www.looklocal.co.za

 

For the latest business victory FOR THE LATEST EVICTION COURT VICTORY NEWS

 

Pilgrims Rest Businesses evictions by government

Pilgrims Rest job losses through ineptitude of Mpumalanga Department of Public Works Roads and Transport

Pilgrims Rest take over by unqualified consortiums with no money or experience

 

PILGRIMS REST, TOWN & BUSINESSES

 

EVICTION CRISIS SAGA UPDATE PAGE

This page is supported by Lowveld Media, The Lowvelder and Routes & Destinations currently hosting the Interest Group and

Look Local Lowveld. www.looklocal.co.za

 

KRUGER LOWVELD PRESS RELEASE 10th July 2012:

 

The tragedy of Pilgrim’s Rest: Some ideas for its survival and reinvention:

 

For many years now, Pilgrim’s Rest, the government-owned, historic, old, mining town has been in a state of decline. Once a tourism jewel on the greater Panorama route, but after years of neglect and broken promises from the Mpumalanga government, the future of this world-famous national asset now hangs in the balance. As the custodian of Pilgrim’s Rest, the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (DPW) has consistently over a long period of time, neglected its duty to maintain buildings and infrastructure and to administer the town and collect rent from all tenants.

In allowing many non-paying tenants to remain entrenched in their premises instead of evicting them, the DPW has not gathered the necessary income to maintain the town. Furthermore, non-paying tenants have also not invested in their businesses. Even some paying tenants have not invested in their businesses because of no long term security of tenure, thereby making any investment a risk.
These concurrent processes have led to the long term decay of Pilgrim’s Rest and consequently, the town has become less and less popular as a tourism destination and has already been forsaken by many large international and national tour operators.

At a point in the recent past, it seemed as if government had recognized the need to reinvigorate Pilgrim’s Rest and the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (DEDET) awarded a tender for a transaction advisor to set the framework for the town’s redevelopment. But nothing has transpired since then, highlighting the DEDET’s lack of political will to sustain this tourism icon.

 

Coupled with the DPW’s inability to administer and maintain Pilgrim’s Rest, many business owners have become increasingly disillusioned with government officials and have often had to spend their own funds on maintenance and repairs of premises owned by government.

With the lapsing of many leases towards the end of 2011, the DPW was obliged to initiate a new tender process and subsequently issue new leases to winning bidders. This was a great opportunity to retain good, paying tenants with successful businesses, to evict non-paying tenants through non- renewal of their leases and then to source new, talented and potential rent-paying tenants/business people who could bring much-needed, new vision and energy to the town. It would appear that DPW missed this opportunity. Instead, at the end of June 2012, after a long period of uncertainty and missed deadlines, the DPW finally awarded 21 building leases to 14 successful bidders, of which a mere five are owners of existing businesses.

 

Commencing on 1 August 2012, 18 premises will all have new occupiers, of which 16 are completely new to Pilgrim’s Rest, and have never operated a business there. Furthermore, the successful bidders were only awarded permission to occupy existing buildings, and do not take ownership of going concerns – they simply inherit an empty (and dilapidated in many cases) shell, implying that 18 businesses as they are currently owned will cease to exist on 31 July 2012, and all these need to be re-established by the new tenants. It is also extremely worrying to hear allegations that many successful bidders do not have the required capital to startup businesses in the premises they have been awarded, thus there is a good chance that many of the successful bidders/new tenants may not even be able to open shop.

Moreover, there are also allegations that the tender process itself was flawed. With bid price constituting 80% to 90% of the tender score, it is difficult to work out how tenders were adjudicated if, as alleged, tenders were not necessarily awarded to the highest bidders and the process seems not to have included verification of resources. It also seems strange that one bidder was awarded five leases and two others three and two respectively, casting even more suspicion on the bid adjudication and allocation process.

 

It is the duty of government to effect transformation and broad based empowerment in all sectors of the economy and the tourism industry is no different. Such initiatives are essential for the long term sustainability of our economy and our democracy. But what might have appeared to be a quick win for government in Pilgrim’s Rest could turn out to be detrimental in the long run for all concerned. If some of the new tenants are unable to open shop, this transformation exercise will be an embarrassment. There might be nothing left to transform if Pilgrim’s Rest slowly shuts down over the next few months.

Another by-product could be an overall net reduction in employment in and around the town -workers for the previous tenants will have lost their jobs and only a few new jobs could be forthcoming from the new tenants. This is potentially disastrous for this rural community. The Pilgrim’s Rest situation is one of slow death – a process that began many years ago and that is probably and eventually going to culminate in a completely run down, increasingly unoccupied and ultimately abandoned historical town – a ghost town that was once an iconic tourism destination.

There are wider implications for the greater Panorama area and Kruger Lowveld region. With Pilgrim’s Rest wiped off tourists’ itineraries, this means there is one less reason to visit the region. This, together with the fact that other iconic properties on the Panorama Route that are owned and
managed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency such as God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Blyde River Canyon are also in urgent need of reinvestment, maintenance and modernisation, does not bode well for the local tourism industry. With the provincial government’s
ineptitude in fulfilling its legislative role as custodian of national tourism and conservation assets and tourism marketer of the province, it is no wonder that Mpumalanga’s popularity as a tourism destination has waned over the last few years.

 

The possible solutions for Pilgrim’s Rest are multifaceted and an innovative long term strategy needs to be put in place to save it. Government needs meaningful assistance from the private sector to develop this long term strategy. In the meantime, some short term interventions are necessary.
These include:

 

1. Like it or not, Pilgrim’s Rest is a living museum of a bygone era. This history should be preserved and government must commit to its preservation.

2. Government must acknowledge Pilgrim’s Rest’s status as an iconic tourism destination in Mpumalanga.

3. For transparency’s sake, government should have the entire recent bid allocation process independently audited to establish whether proper bid adjudication procedures were followed.

4. Pilgrim’s Rest belongs to all South Africans and so, in the interests of the wider public, DPW should make all recent tender applications available for public scrutiny.

5. As the awarding agency, DPW should ensure and guarantee (if necessary) that all recent successful bidders have the means to establish and start up relevant businesses in Pilgrim’s Rest.

6. Transformation objectives should be clearly articulated and understood by all stakeholders.

And running concurrently to these, we need to:
Urgently constitute a lean and legitimate Pilgrim’s Rest working committee, made up of relevant, but informed stakeholders and particularly of private sector organisations’ representatives and empowered government officials to seek a long term solution to the sustainability of Pilgrim’s Rest.

The mandate of such a committee should be to develop and finalise this long term strategy and road map for implementation thereof within the next 6 months. The necessary government departments also need to agree to the acceptance and funding of the Pilgrim’s Rest salvage plan and long term strategy at the onset of the constitution of this committee.

 

Kruger Lowveld Tourism, as the regional tourism organisation representing private sector tourism in the greater Kruger Lowveld/Ehlanzeni area, as an affiliate to SATSA and as a member of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industries (through its parent body Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism), will convene the first meeting of the Pilgrim’s Rest working committee as soon as appropriate stakeholders are identified. These are likely to include the following:

Kruger Lowveld Tourism
SATSA: National and Mpumalanga Chapter
Tourism Business Council of South Africa
South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Pilgrim’s Rest Business Community (new and old)
Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency
SA Tourism
National Department of Tourism
DEDET: Mpumalanga
DPW: Mpumalanga
South African Museum Services

Released by:
Kruger Lowveld Tourism

Pilgrim’s Rest: DA (Democratic Alliance Party) seeking legal opinion
     
Date : 11 July 2012

Release: Immediate

 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Mpumalanga held a public meeting in Pilgrim’s Rest today with business and workers in which it was agreed that legal opinion be obtained to stop the shutting down of the town on 31 July.

 

This after the Public Works Department awarded the majority of 21 business leases for core premises in the small tourist town to individuals or companies with no capital, business plan or knowledge of the town.

 

At today’s meeting, business and workers were united in the call to fight the collapse of the Pilgrim’s Rest economy. The DA and the Pilgrim’s Rest community have transferred the matter to our attorneys for legal opinion on a joint court application.

 

One worker stated at the meeting that he would need to remove his four kids from school after he is retrenched at the end of the month.

 

Business owners will be evicted from their premises on 1 August by the Public Works Department without negotiating the ongoing employment of workers.

 

The DA and the Pilgrim’s Rest community took a firm decision to fight for the town and against the jobs that will be lost if Public Works’ plan to shut down businesses goes ahead. We will communicate the outcome of the legal opinion in due course.

 

Media enquiries:

 

Anthony Benadie MPL

083 400 8554

 

Jamie Turkington
Media Officer
071 872 7119

 

23 July 2012: Tourism Review: SOUTH AFRICA TO BECOME ONE OF TOP 20 DESTINATIONS.

 

I enclose hereunder my reply to Tourism Review http://www.tourism-review.com/south-africa-wants-to-be-among-top-20-destinations-news3341  who touted Deputy Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa as saying that South Africa’s plan is to make this country one of the Top 20 tourist destinations in the world through responsible tourism:

 

In answer to your article published in Tourism Review “SOUTH AFRICA TO BECOME ONE OF TOP 20 DESTINATIONS. 23 July 2012”

The Tourism Deputy Minister Tokozile Xasa stated according to your article; “Responsible tourism  (Highlights mine) was defined as an approach in tourism management which is centralized on maximizing economic, environmental and social benefits and minimizing expenditures regarding destinations by creating better places for everyone to live in and, of course, better places to visit.”

Your article further stated; Xasa, one of the participants of the conference, said that responsible tourism is all about focusing on sustainability of the solutions.

Xasa also said that the world is beginning to realize that the “responsible tourism” approach is the best one because of the factor of sustainability. In addition to these, the approach is more people oriented. People are constantly searching for authentic experiences. Tourists want to travel to South Africa because of that very reason.

 

I wish with all my heart that this was true, but sadly the South African Government as well as some local government bodies apparently don’t hold the same views as Deputy Minister Tokozile Xasa.  I would like to refer you to the concerns voiced by various bodies about the absolute nonsensical and seemingly fraudulent and nepotistic actions by the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works in awarding tenders to parties that have apparently no experience or skills in conducting business to uphold the infrastructure of the National Historical Monument Town of Pilgrims Rest in the province of Mpumalanga.

Among others the “Mpumalanga Historical Interest Group” and a concerned number of South African public are asking for explanations. This action by the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works is totally contradicting what Xasa is trying to tell the world.

 

For anyone interested in knowing more about the Pilgrims Rest debacle and eviction scandal I refer you to www.mpumalangahappenings.co.za/pilgrimsrest_eviction_crisis-monotoring.html. Here you  can read about the worries and fears of various groups of concerned South Africans as to what is happening to our historical infrastructure throughout the country and how in total disagreement with  Xasa, the government  is doing very little if not virtually nothing to preserve our historical heritage.

Sustainable tourism is sadly lacking in the Pilgrims Rest eviction scandal because by the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works action they have rendered the entire black population of Pilgrims Rest jobless by 1st August 2012.

Up until now, to my knowledge, there has been no response by government, in reply to these questions of political corruption and flagrant violations of tender processes.

 

Given this background I cannot see how Xasa can claim that the government’s policy in practice, not in rhetoric, will ever be able to meet any expectations of being one of “Top 20 Destinations”

 

(Louis-John Havemann from South Africa) 23.07.2012

 

Business owners won't be evicted: LOWVELDER JULY FRIDAY 27 2012


Mr Johnny Reinders and his son TJ of the Vine after the department acknowledged that they had issued the owners of 18 years an eviction letter erroneously.


Gauteng High Court rules in favour of Pilgrim's Rest businesses
26 July 2012 | Christine Rossouw

PRETORIA - Thirteen applicants struck gold when on Thursday when  they were granted a court interdict halting their evictions. The Pilgrim’s Rest business "owners" were jubilant when the interdict was granted in the North Gauteng High Court which prevented the Department of Public Works, Road and Transport (DPWRT) from evicting them on July 31 . In his ruling, Judge Stanley Makgoba said the entire  process had been a sham and that the government had acted in bad faith.
According to Makgoba the department had not been genuine with current business "owners" during the lease negotiations they instigated in 2009 and ruled that the DPWRT could not interfere, intimidate nor evict any of the businesses, pending the review application. He added that it was in the interest of the public for the current "owners" to remain.
The ruling was welcomed by provincial leader of the DA, Mr Anthony Benadie who said the interdict paved the way for the review of the tender process that followed. "This is also a resounding victory for business owners, and over 130 workers, whose families would have been left destitute, had the evictions gone ahead on July 31," said Benadie.
He said the head of department, Mr Kgopane Mohlasedi, as accounting officer should 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 it.
Leases of contention
In court papers submitted by the department, it indicated that the eviction notices of at least two businesses would be withdrawn, those of the Ponieskrantz Stables and more significantly, that of Mr Johnny Reinders of The Vine and Johnny's Pub. Reinders has been a resident of Pilgrim's Rest for 42 years and has run his business for 18 years.
According to Benadie, the withdrawal of these notices stemmed from the department's admission that these were issued erroneously, and that tenants had valid lease agreements.
In the only press statement issued by the department regarding the tender process and eviction notices served on 18 of the village’s businesses, it insisted that "the leases of all businesses which were on tender had expired".
Reinders was in possession of a valid lease agreement until December 2015, yet the department still put his business out on tender. It was then awarded to Timbhulu Construction and Projects, owned by Ms Rachel Khoza, sister of Ms Suzan Khoza, the sole proprietor of Matletle Construction and Projects, which was awarded the tenders to no less than five businesses in the village.
Timbhulu Construction and Projects also won the tenders for Mona Cottage and Chaitows. But Mona Cottage has been a point of contention for years. While they may be the landlords of Pilgrim’s Rest, the right of the department to put the building up on tender came into question.
This was because the current occupants actually built the guest house in 2002, with an agreement by the department that it would reimburse them, who would in turn pay rent to occupy the building. When it failed to pay the occupants back, the department went into dispute. A number of court cases followed wherein the court ordered the department to sort it out because it was an accounting exercise, not a court matter.
Ten years later, the occupants who built Mona Cottage were served eviction notices, while they were still to see a cent from the department.
Ms Sharon Paterson, who has run Pilgrim’s Pantry and Ponieskranz for years, lost the tender for Pilgrim’s Pantry but was re-awarded the lease to Ponieskranz.
Yet Paterson is in possession of a lease renewal agreement for Pilgrim’s Pantry, which the department gave her in October 2010. "Initially I didn’t want to accept it as it was backdated by 18 months to April 1, 2009. Nevertheless I signed it and took it to my lawyer who said one could not backdate an agreement," Paterson said.
The lease renewal was for three years and 11 months, which in theory means it will only expire on March 1 next year.
According to Reinders, business "owners" have spent the better part of the last decade fighting for clarity and consistency surrounding their leases. "They keep changing, then you’re on a month-to-month lease, then you’re given a three-year lease with an option to renew. In my time here there have been six types," Reinders said.
Speaking under anonymity, a long-time Pilgrim’s Rest business "owner" and resident said when they first arrived, they were given a five-year lease with an option to renew. "We sent in our request to have it renewed and just never heard anything from the department. They never acknowledged receiving it and it just dwindled away into nothing," the source said.

The hearing
 
When Judge Stanley Makgoba heard the urgent appeal by 13 of Pilgrim’s evicted business "owners" during the North Gauteng High Court hearing on Wednesday, he remarked that he found it strange that a provincial government department could own a town.
Adv Francois Kriel, who represented the group of Pilgrim’s Rest businessmen argued that the tendering process had not been transparent and was fraught with irregularities. He cited the instance where the current golf course "owners" had lost their, much higher bid  to Matletle Construction and Projects, whose offer was a mere R33 a month.
Kriel said a tender process should include a gradual transition in order to protect the employees of the businesses. "It the department wants to evict the business people I am defending from their premises, it will have to be with a court order," he said.
Adv Ignatius Bredenkamp SC, who was defending the respondents said they were duly and correctly informed to vacate the premises by the provincial authority. He argued that the occupants were using the premises on a month-to-month basis, therefore the notice of eviction served on June 29, should be considered valid. He further stated that the tender process had been conducted according to rules and regulations.
Pilgrim’s Rest resident, Ms Frieda Paton had, after the awarding of the tenders, remarked that the way whereby the department had evicted occupants was "illogical". "Five days before the successful bidders were informed they had won their tenders, the department served eviction notices on the businesses in town. There should’ve been a period of negotiation with the successful bidders to an agreed-upon date whereby they would be ready to assume occupation and only then should current occupants have been served with eviction notices. How can they give successful bidders less than a month’s notice before they are expected to stock, equip and start a brand-new business," she said.
The readiness of successful bidders to assume occupancy on August 1, has been one of the primary concerns raised by members of the community, who are facing unemployment, should they be unable to do so.
Makgoba remarked that none of the successful bidders (under the respondents in the case) indicated that they were ready to take over the premises on August 1, nor that they had the necessary licences, like those for liquor or fuel, in order to do so.
The respondents cited in the court papers included the Mpumalanga premier,
Mr David Mabuza, minister of public works, Mr Thulas Nxesi and Mpumalanga Public Works MEC, Ms Dikeledi Mahlangu.

Pilgrims Rest Businesses in crisis, Pilgrims Rest business evictions , Mpumalanga Department of Public Works in conjunction with two consortiums in take over bid of Pilgrims Rest , Pilgrims Rest job losses through government evictions.

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