TWO of the new businesses that won tenders for leases in November last year had already contacted the original owners, saying they did not have "the ways and means" to operate these businesses.

They subsequently offered to lease the businesses back to the original owners - clearly an attempt to make a profit out of the transaction, a lawyer for the business owners, Pieter Steenkamp, told Business Day.

In January 2009, an agreement was signed to extend the leases of all the existing owners for five years or more. But this agreement was thereafter backdated to 2004, which meant the leases were valid for only another eight months.

This "raised suspicion" around the whole process, Mr Steenkamp said. Then, in November last year, nonlocals were awarded the tenders to the exclusion of the existing businesses, with three outsiders being awarded eight tenders between them.

Yesterday, Judge Stanley Makgoba said he had seen no evidence that the new occupants could operate the businesses, some of which required liquor and petroleum licences. The evictions and awarding of tenders to outsiders "could not work" and was "marred with controversy", he said.

He also said the provincial public works department had not acted in good faith in terms of the 2009 agreement to extend the lease for five years from 2004, and that the process was not transparent.

"The whole episode is just a sham, it just can't work," Judge Makgoba said.

An urgent interdict was awarded, and the provincial public works department was restrained from implementing the tenders and ordered not to interfere with the businesses "in any way".

A review process of the tenders would follow.

Mr Steenkamp said the onus was on the state to get the review process going, as the state had to furnish the applicants with the relevant documents.

"We welcome the ruling with open arms," Mr Steenkamp told reporters outside the Pretoria High Court yesterday. He said momentum was now on the side of the business owners.

This was a victory not only for the business owners, but also for their employees, the employees' families and the "whole town" as people would have had to drive to other towns to get petrol because the new business owners may not have had licences.

David Nkambula, head of communications for the Mpulalanga public works, roads and transport department, said the department "welcomes and respects the judgment".