Zuma architect builds mini-Nkandla

2014-03-23 15:48

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Johannesburg - A month after President Jacob Zuma’s May 2009 inauguration, his personal ­architect, Minenhle Makhanya, bought a pig farm in the lush green hills around Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal.

Two months later, Makhanya, whom Zuma had retained to design extensions to his Nxamalala homestead, was ­appointed de factor project manager by the department of public works after ­being introduced to the government construction team by the first citizen.

His farm, Meseni, situated in a ­forested section of the Richmond Valley off the road to Ixopo, appears to be where Makhanya invested some of the cool R16m he received for managing the project.

The farm is owned by one of Makhanya’s companies, Ntsimizi Farming Services, which lists four other directors.

The design of the farmhouse echoes that of Zuma’s homestead.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report holds Makhanya, who did not have to compete for any tender, largely responsible for the project’s ­ballooning costs.

When asked about the cattle culvert and the chicken run during Madonsela’s inspection of the place, Makhanya told her: “This is how they do it in England.”

Last week, Makhanya went to ground, vanishing from his farm as well as his down-at-heel Pinetown home and nearby offices.

Neighbours at all three said Makhanya had not been seen all week.

Mystery

How Zuma met Makhanya is a ­mystery. He is unknown in ANC circles, but is understood to come from the Kranskop area and have Zuma family connections.

Makhanya’s farm gate is topped with statues of the Virgin Mary and an ­imperial Roman eagle.

A steep, rutted driveway leads down the hillside to the homestead – like Zuma’s, a main building flanked by a cluster of rondavels.

The colour scheme and design match his ­client’s hacienda.

A R1m, three-tower central pivot irrigation system waters Makhanya’s citrus and cabbage crops in a nearby field.

Locals say he is the only one in the area who owns the costly machinery.

A woman at the farm, who declined to be identified, said Makhanya was at a function in Umbumbulu, south of ­Durban, but would be available on his cellphone.

A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said Makhanya “is a very quiet, down-to-earth kind of guy”.

“He’s not here a lot of the time, but he seems to be trying really hard [to make the farm succeed]. He had some problems with his cattle starving last winter.”

Another neighbour described him as “very pleasant”.

Neither knew much about the architect, who ran his previous practice, DGIT Architects and DGIT Architecture, with partner Ndabo Langa, son of late chief justice Pius Langa.

Not flashy

“We heard that he was the Nkandla guy. There is nothing to suggest it in the way he lives. He’s a very ordinary kind of person with no flashy lifestyle,” one said.

A Langa family member was unwilling to discuss the partnership, but said it ended over a decade ago.

At Makhanya’s more modest Sarnia, Pinetown, office and home, neighbours described an almost invisible man who is “not around very often”.

“He’s a very quiet guy, very easy­going,’’ said a local shopkeeper. “Are you sure that’s the same guy?”

Pappie Maja, spokesperson for the SA Council for the Architectural Profession, said Makhanya was registered with them since 1997 when he began as a ­candidate architect.

He was upgraded to a professional ­architect the following year after ­passing his professional ­practice ­examination.

Repeated attempts to speak to ­Makhanya proved fruitless.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  thuli madonsela  |  nkandla upgrade
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