The man behind Zuma’s mansion

2013-11-15 00:00

THE architect who was paid R18 million from the public purse for the upgrade to the president’s Nkandla home uses a run-down residential home for an office, and works part-time as a pig farmer.

However, The Witness has also established that architect Minenhle Makhanya has powerful connections — and was previously a partner with the son of former chief justice Pius Langa.

Yesterday, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela won a major victory in her effort to release her provisional report into the more than R200 million Nklandla project — by attaching the report itself to court papers arguing for its release. The state had tried to delay its release, citing “national security” concerns, but yesterday abandoned its bid.

However, Madonsela also revealed in court papers that Makhanya’s central role in Nkandla exposed the state’s objection as baseless, since Makhanya oversaw the entire project despite having “no security expertise, let alone clearance”.

She claimed that President Jacob Zuma personally hired Makhanya to redesign the estate in northern KwaZulu- Natal.

Documents in the possession of The Witness confirm not only that state funds were used to pay Makhanya’s tiny, Pinetown-based firm on the project, but that his fee was 9,62% of the entire project cost.

This week, director of Conco Bryan Architects in Pietermaritzburg Lew Bryan said: “you would expect a contract like that to be decided by a major provincial competition, and well-resourced firms to be considered”.

Bryan said he was “astonished” by the deal: “We haven’t seen that kind of fee in 10 years.”

The Witness yesterday found Makhanya Architects based at a run-down residential home, with no reception area, and old car tyres stacked against a broken-down wall. Entrance to the firm was through the kitchen, where the only evidence of any activity was a can of coffee powder on the counter.

One staff member told The Witness that Makhanya was “away on site — a school on the South Coast”, before instructing reporters to leave the premises, and driving away in a bakkie.

However, a neighbour, Danny Naidoo, said that the “staff member” had, in fact, been Makhanya himself, based on a detailed description supplied.

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

In addition, Makhanya has an active communications company, Meseni, and a farming services company, Ntsimizi, listed at the same residential address where his architecture firm is based.

Earlier, he was in partnership with Langa’s son Ndabo Langa at DGIT Architects.

The architect’s home is 100 metres from the “office” — a modest face-brick house in a tropical yard. The intercom was broken and held together with black electrical tape.

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 them.”

Naidoo said Makhanya owned “about six vehicles”, and also owned a BMW motorcycle with a sidecar.

Another Durban architect, Nzuzo Mthembu, described Makhanya as a role model for young 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 had a chance of getting otherwise.”

On Tuesday, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, in fighting the state action to delay her release of the report, filed an opposing 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 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. This is described in further detail in the provisional report,” said Madonsela’s affidavit.

In a responding affidavit, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa called this statement “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 go to a tender process in appointing an architect.

“Architects are not graded such as 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,” said Steere.

Makhanya did not respond to questions sent to him by The Witness.

Attempts to contact Langa were also unsuccessful.

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