Appointment of Nkandla architect shrouded in secrecy, court hears

Former president Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead is the subject of a hearing in the Pietermaritzburg high court. File photo.
Former president Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead is the subject of a hearing in the Pietermaritzburg high court. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

There was “secrecy” around the appointment of Durban architect Minenhle Makhanya as the lead architect on upgrades to former president Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.

This is the evidence of a key forensic investigator attached to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), who is testifying on the second day of a hearing in which the unit is seeking to hold Makhanya financially responsible for some of the upgrades, which were funded by the taxpayer.

The cost of the project ballooned to R246m, from an original budget of R27m, with controversial add-ons, such as an amphitheatre, “fire pool”, helipad and chicken run.

After a damning report by then public protector Thuli Madonsela, and a Constitutional Court ruling, Zuma eventually paid back R7.8m for “non-security related” upgrades.

The SIU is seeking to claw back R155m from the architect who has pleaded poverty and is unrepresented at the hearing in the Pietermaritzburg high court, presided over by Special Tribunal judge Kate Pillay. Advocate Vinay Gajoo SC is representing the SIU.

The hearing is being heard in camera because sketches, drawings, house plans and other photographs of the homestead, as contained in SAPS and SA National Defence Force assessment reports, which could compromise the security of Zuma and his family, are to be presented.

Special Tribunal spokesperson Selby Makgotho is sitting in the hearing and has provided details of the evidence of the first witness, a senior SIU forensic investigator, whose identity is being withheld.

On Monday, the witness told Pillay that Zuma had previously worked with Makhanya and he wanted him to take the reins on the upgrade project.

There was no open tender or competitive bidding for the job and the architect had been paid a R2m professional fee, upfront, based on his letter of appointment.

On Tuesday, she said there was secrecy around his appointment and when the unit investigated the matter, it had found there were no clear guidelines as to how the process unfolded.

She said when submissions for approval of the project were made to the acting director-general of public works in September 2009, Makhanya had already been appointed the previous month and reference was made to the fact that Zuma had already appointed private consultants.

Senior public works officials appointed in an advisory capacity who raised concerns about the lack of planning were simply removed from the process.
Witness

Public works officials had approved additional fees of R4.9m, on top of the original R27.8m already approved.

The witness said Makhanya was not registered as a service provider with the department, though in an interview he claimed to remember submitting the documents for registration.

The National Intelligence Agency, in correspondence, had advised him to subject himself to “further clearance”, but there were no records that he did and the State Security Agency, when approached by the unit, confirmed they had no record of his clearance.

The public works official had told the unit that Makhyana was “inherited from Zuma’s history of working with him” and thought he was automatically due for appointment.

The witness said his appointment was “irregular and unprocedural” – there was no emergency situation to justify his appointment in complete disregard for the law –  but former minister of public works Geoff Doidge had “encouraged” a cordial working relationship between him and the department officials.

The witness said Makhanya had been responsible for planning the project and it could not be “reasonably justified that the security upgrades were thought of late” and warranted deviations from what had already been approved.

“Senior public works officials appointed in an advisory capacity who raised concerns about the lack of planning were simply removed from the process,” she said.

The powers to evaluate bids from private professional teams were moved from the department and given to Makhanya, she said. One, a security consultant, was hired on an “emergency” basis, which was never reported to the Treasury up until the SIU investigation began.

The witness named two entities, Moneymine Investments and Bonelena Construction and Projects Pty Ltd, which purportedly did civil works at Nkandla through a “negotiated process” and were ultimately paid more than R54m.

Bonelena was paid more than R1m for the outer perimeter fencing, and it is alleged this was made without the work being done.

The hearing is continuing.

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