Premier Must Intervene to Rescue Pilgrim’s Rest

Anthony Benadie MPL

Provincial Leader – Mpumalanga

The future and sustainability of Pilgrims Rest – a world famous, government-owned tourist attraction – hangs in the balance, with uncertainty and economic instability prevalent in abundance. We therefore call on premier David Mabuza to urgently intervene and prevent an imminent disaster.

The DA’s concern arises from the impact that the bid awarding process of leases in Pilgrim’s Rest will have on this historic town’s sustainability, job security of employees, and tourism to the greater Panorama area.

After a long period of uncertainty and missed deadlines, the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport finally awarded 21 building leases to 14 successful bidders, of which a mere five are owners of existing businesses. Commencing on 1 August, 18 businesses will all have new occupiers, of which 16 are completely new to Pilgrim’s Rest, and have never operated a business there.

This being said, it is known that the successful bidders were only awarded permission to occupy existing buildings, and do not take ownership of going concerns – they simply inherit an empty 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.

The impact this dramatic change will be devastating on the job security of many employees, as the new lessees have not been put under any obligation to employ former staff members. In fact, the affected 18 business owners have been forced to serve their employees with retrenchment notices, which would in turn affect hundreds of families in the area, adding to the unemployment burden.

The DA is also extremely concerned over the entire bid allocation process, and allegations that many successful bidders in fact do not have the required capital to start up businesses in the premises they have been awarded. We are also highly concerned over the fact that one bidder was awarded five leases and two others three and two respectively, casting suspicion on the bid adjudication and allocation process – this is certainly not broad based empowerment.

Bearing the above in mind, one cannot but wonder over the effects the change-over will have on tourism to both Pilgrim’s Rest and the greater Panorama area. Tour operators offer packages exploring Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest, God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck potholes and the Blyde River Canyon, and if one of the major attractions of the package ceases to exist, the domino effect on tourism to the area will be devastating.

During a meeting yesterday with premier Mabuza, he reiterated the government’s commitment to sustainable tourism to Mpumalanga. To this end, we will write to the premier and ask him to:

· Have the entire bid allocation process investigated and establish whether proper bid adjudication procedures were followed;

· Ensure and guarantee that all successful bidders have the means to establish and start relevant businesses in Pilgrim’s Rest;

· Make available all successful bidders’ business plans and how it relates to the history of the town;

· Commit government to the protection of this historical town’s heritage;

· Acknowledge the importance of Pilgrim’s Rest as prime tourism destination in Mpumalanga;

· Commit the administration to job security and job creation, and indicating governments plan of action to secure employment for those facing retrenchment,

· Ensure that the transition runs smoothly without Pilgrim’s Rest appearing as ghost town during this process

The DA acknowledges the efforts of the Mpumalanga provincial government to ensure the transformation of the business and tourism sectors, and believes that everyone should enjoy equal opportunity to do so. However, government’s continued indecisiveness over the future of this national asset now risks its entire existence. Premier Mabuza must intervene.

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