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Finding Mino: The quest to find Zuma’s architect

Fatima Asmal

He is the big cheese who designed so much at Nkandla, so why is he so hard to find?

No profile: The elusive Minenhle ‘Mino’ Makhanya. Photo: Naturals Cool

It should not be difficult to track down President Jacob Zuma’s architect of choice.

Type the phrase "architects South Africa" in the search field and Google will spew out hundreds of websites belonging to firms around the country. One can take one’s pick from a range of sleek options, boasting stunning photographs, minimalistic design and impressive social media integration.

Trouble is, I’m looking for one architect in particular – Minenhle Makhanya – and his firm is nowhere to be found in cyberspace, unless you count a few (incorrect) listings on directory sites.

Southafrica-companies.com, a website that explicitly states that its goal is to ensure that "you know exactly what you’re dealing with", informs me that "Minenhle Makhanya Architects is an Primary Co-Operative business incorporated in South Africa on June 22 2007", its activity being registered as "to engage in architects consulting and any other services related thereto".

But the phone number listed for the firm leads me to a tax and accounting firm based in Durban central. When I ask the woman who answers the phone why this is so, she says it could be because Makhanya "had done some work" for them. She tells me, if I call her back in a few minutes, she could possibly assist me with his number.

Meanwhile, I call MTN’s directory inquiries, which gives me the same number. Woman-at-the-tax-and-accounting-firm tells me this is strange, she doesn’t understand why, but she is unable to provide me with Makhanya’s correct contact number, and politely suggests I check the phone directory, which I do without success.

Thus far southafrica-companies.com hasn’t informed me "exactly who I’m dealing with", because the address in Pinetown it lists for Makhanya’s firm also turns out to be a dead-end. At the address, a little girl comes to the door, followed by a woman who tells me that I am at a home, not a business.

The only other listing I can find on the internet has a postal address and a phone number, which "does not exist", according to Telkom.

Surprisingly, the contact centre of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession, while assuring me that Minenhle Makhanya Architects is a registered firm, has the same nonexistent contact number on record.

As a last resort, I decide to look up the man himself instead of his firm. I find a cheerful photograph of him on the website of a Cape Town-based company called Naturals Cool, which offers a range of innovative, part-time design courses for "architects, designers, landscapers, contractors, artists, mail-order brides and others".

Makhanya has recently completed one of these courses, and his testimonial appears alongside his picture: "The course is brilliant. It refreshes and reminds us of the forgotten skills and further highlights the value of physical measure and experience of a site and its immediate environs."

I’m now determined to meet this gentleman. He seems intriguing – he probably has an interesting story of his own to tell; and, moreover, someday, when I can afford it, I may want him to design my house.

I hurriedly send off an email to Naturals Cool, asking whether he is the Minenhle Makhanya, before grabbing my phone directory and looking him up. Voila! There it is – a sole Makhanya, MN, listed in Sarnia. The voice at the other end is like music to my ears: "Minenhle Makhanya Architects, good morning …"

The company is on a busy road in a residential area in Pinetown. There are no signs identifying it as a business and, as the gates open to let my car in, I’m worried that I may have got it all wrong again.

But there’s a woman waiting behind the closed gate of what looks like a kitchen. Yes, this is Minenhle Makhanya Architects, she confirms sullenly. No, he’s not here. No, she cannot give me his cell number. No, she doesn’t know when he will be back. Yes, that is him in the photograph.

As I get ready to pull out of the driveway, I receive an email from Naturals Cool on my iPhone.

"Yes Mino did attend our course and he is an architect that practises in Durban," a woman there confirms. "However, we do have an agreement with our course participants that we will not pass on their contact details to anyone, so unfortunately I won’t be able to help you in that respect.

"I’m sure he should be easy enough to get in touch with directly through his architectural practice."

"Easy" is not exactly the world I would use. But who cares? I want Mino to design my house one day.

In return, in keeping with a tradition I picked up in Egypt, where a person who may not be able to afford something offers a skill in its place, I’d like to design a fully functional website for Minenhle Makhanya Architects.

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What does it take to spark Madonsela’s fury?

What will it take to make Thuli Madonsela angry? Apparently more than suggestions that she is demeaning her office by playing politics, or that she is not angry enough.

On Tuesday, the always measured public protector came under attack by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. A day later, she expressed discomfort with describing it as an attack. "I don’t want to use the words 'under attack'," she told a media briefing. "I do feel there are now heightened opportunities to be misunderstood."

She said that when a party or organisation criticises her or her office – such as when an ANC ally, the South African Communist Party, called for her office to be investigated, or when the ANC itself accused her of trying to influence the 2014 elections – "we have found that the values that underpin the statement[s] are not problematic".

For example, her critics had a point when they said her office should not leak provisional investigative reports, she said. The value is correct, even if the accusation is not.

When it was put to Madonsela that she had been accused of showing insufficient anger when she said it had been illegal and immoral for the Mail & Guardian to publish details on her findings on Nkandla last Friday, she reacted with what amounted to an extended sigh.

"Am I showing enough anger? [The question] says to me I can’t win, whatever I do, with some people."

But lest we fear that she is not entirely human, Madonsela this week made a joke (a terrible one, involving e-tags and being sad) and expressed her deep sadness at how Mantashe had "arrived at the conclusions he arrived at". – Phillip de Wet

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'Secret' report concerns swept aside

The Cabinet announced on Thursday that it was overriding the decisions of both Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi and a parliamentary committee, and would release an internal government report into Nkandla, as the ANC requested on Tuesday.

The regular Cabinet meeting this week endorsed the findings of the report and “directed that the report be released to the public”, it said.

The report was handed to Parliament in June but was kept secret because, it was argued, its release would compromise state security.

A key parliamentary body, the joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI), agreed.

“The JSCI is satisfied that the Nkandla report was correctly classified … Disclosure of the contents of the report of the task team can be expected to compromise both the personal and property security of the president and his immediate family who occupy the property,” the committee said in mid-November.

But, on Tuesday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe “requested” that the report be made public to give balance to the findings of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on Nkandla, due shortly before Christmas or in early January.

According to the JSCI, the government report finds that the perception that the Zuma family benefited from the more than R200-million spent at Nkandla is grounded in “misunderstanding”.

Madonsela’s report is expected to recommend that Zuma repay a substantial amount of money. –​ Phillip de Wet

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