President Zuma’s architect plays hooky during surprise visit

2013-11-17 14:00

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The architect who was paid R18 million by the state for the upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home is a part-time pig farmer who uses a rundown house for an office.

However, architect Minenhle Makhanya has powerful connections and used to be the business partner of Chief Justice Pius Langa’s son, City Press’ sister newspaper, The Witness, reported.

In court papers this week, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela revealed that Makhanya oversaw the entire project despite having “no security expertise, let alone clearance”, and claimed that Zuma personally hired Makhanya to redesign his private home.

Makhanya’s fee amounted to 9.62% of the cost of the entire project.

However, he is no longer a registered architect after having been deregistered by the SA Council for the Architectural Profession (Sacap) for “failing to pay his subscription fee” of R2?212 for the 2013/14 financial year.

Sacap confirmed Makhanya was “no longer active”. It is “illegal to practise without being registered with Sacap”, the organisation said.

This week, established Pietermaritzburg architect Lew Bryan was “astonished” by what Makhanya was paid for the Nkandla job.

“We haven’t seen that kind of fee in 10 years,” he said.

Makhanya Architects operates in Pinetown. The business has no reception area and old car tyres were stacked against a broken-down wall. Visitors enter through the kitchen.

One staff member said Makhanya was “away on site – a school on the South Coast”, before instructing reporters to leave. But neighbour Danny Naidoo revealed the staff member was Makhanya himself.

Company records show that Makhanya (42) has varied commercial interests, including a property company, a consultancy and a farm in Richmond, where he runs a piggery and kept Nguni cattle.

He also has an active communications company, Meseni, and a farming services company, Ntsimizi, listed at the same address as his architecture firm.

He used to be in partnership with Langa’s son, Ndabo Langa, at DGIT Architects.

Naidoo said: “He is a good guy; we’re on the street watch together. He’s very concerned about crime. They are always burglarising his place and he sometimes chases after looking for them.”

Durban architect Nzuzo Mthembu described Makhanya as a role model for young independent designers.

“He has had a big success, which I think he could never have had in a tender process. They are trying to give a chance to independent black African guys to expose guys like me to projects we would never have a chance of getting otherwise.”

On Tuesday, Madonsela filed a responding affidavit, along with the provisional Nkandla report which was entered into the court registry as confidential.

“It is indeed surprising that claims of possible security breaches were ever raised at all,” she said of the security cluster’s application to interdict her from releasing her interim report to affected parties, “given that the president’s privately appointed architect, with absolutely no security expertise, let alone clearance, was tasked with overseeing the entire Nkandla project on behalf of the department of public works”.

In a responding affidavit, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa dismissed this statement as “not relevant” to the application.

Makhanya graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1997 and has been a registered architect since 1998.

Minenhle Makhanya Architects is a family-run business, of which his wife is an employee.

Eshowe architect Jeremy Steere said the department of public works did not always appoint architects by way of a tender process.

“Architects are not graded like civil-works contractors. Their capacity is usually guided by the time they have spent in the profession. If they have been in the industry for a decade or more, they are deemed capable of undertaking any project,” he said.

Makhanya did not respond to questions. Attempts to contact Langa were unsuccessful.

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