Zuma's broken promise: Mpumalanga high court not yet completed

State of the Nation addresses involve reflection on government’s achievements: how many households have been connected to electricity or how many work opportunities created.

But the head of state also looks forward and offers promises and commitments. During South Africa’s 2017 State of the Nation Address President Jacob Zuma promised the completion of a new high court in the Mpumalanga province.

"The promotion of access to justice was given added meaning last year when the high court division in Limpopo was opened in November. The Mpumalanga high court will be completed during this financial year," Zuma said to applause from his party benches.

"The coming into operation of these two high courts means that we have now realised the goal of a high court in every province of the country."

But just one week before the 2018 State of the Nation Address is set to be delivered, a bulldozer is parked outside the high court premise in Mbombela.

A tight promise

The Mpumalanga region has never had its own high court. In 2013, when Zuma announced that construction would soon begin, he acknowledged that many communities in the area had to endure the "hardship of accessing the high court [...] in Pretoria since the formation of the Union of South Africa for a period of more than a century".

In September that year, the stand was handed over to implementer Independent Development Trust, an entity of the national department of public works. The planned completion date was September 2015. When Zuma delivered his 2017 State of the Nation Address, the project was therefore nearly a year and a half late.

He also didn’t give himself or his government much wriggle room. Zuma’s commitment that the high court would be completed "during this financial year" meant that the deadline was 31 March 2017 - just 50 days away.

95% complete since September 2016

Africa Check visited the high court building on Samora Machel drive in Mbombela last week. A sign outside the property clearly declares it a "construction site". Next to a parked bulldozer lay piles of sand. Inside the fence, rows and rows of bricks were stacked under shade cloth.

"The project is 95% complete," the Independent Development Trust’s spokesman, Lesego Mashigo, told Africa Check. "This means that construction of the court buildings, landscaping, bulk electricity and water supply are now complete." (Note: Africa Check has been unable to verify yet with the local municipality whether the court has been connected to electricity and water.)

What this also means is there has been no progress since September 2016 when the portfolio committee on public works conducted an oversight visit and reported that it was "95% complete".

No access road

The high court is impressive. Its curved front has six towers painted in shades of yellow, brown and orange. When finished, it will house 18 judges’ chambers, six criminal courts, 6 civil courts and police holding cells. What is noticeably absent, however, is an access road. A formal access point to allow cars and people to enter and leave is yet to be constructed. Currently, you have to walk or drive up a steep sandy slope from the busy Samora Machel drive. This problem was identified by the portfolio committee on public works in 2016 when they raised "issues surrounding full access to the court". Other problems included non-performance of consultants, inadequate bulk electricity and stormwater management. When will the access road be completed? Mashigo said they expected to see it finalised by September 2018, for the court to start operating in October 2018.

Conclusion: Zuma's high court promise not kept

During the 2017 State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma promised that the Mpumalanga high court would be completed within 50 days. One year later, construction is still unfinished. Zuma’s promise to complete the high court was not kept. As such, he can’t yet claim to have "realised the goal of a high court in every province of the country".

- This guide was researched by Kate Wilkinson and Ina Skosana for Africa Check, the continent's leading fact-checking organisation. Read it on their website here.

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