Nkandla architect fails to appear in court

The Special Tribunal will seek a default judgment against Minenhle Makhanya, the architect of the upgrades to former president Jacob Zuma’s infamous Nkandla home, after he failed to appear in court on Friday.

The spokesman for the tribunal, Selby Makgotho, said Judge Kate Pillay postponed the hearing in which the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is attempting to recover R155-million in misspent public money from Makhanya, to 24 January to 4 February 2022.

But the tribunal will ask for an order that he pay for the cost of its two counsel for Friday after failing to appear in the high court in Pietermaritzburg where the hearing is being held.

Makhanya was admitted to hospital on Wednesday night, three days into the matter, and produced a medical certificate that was only valid for Thursday. Pillay subsequently heard through her secretary that he was still awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.

Most of this week’s proceedings took place in camera, Makgotho said, because it involved site maps and drawings that could not be made public for security reasons given Zuma’s status as a former head of state.

This was as per a court order in October 2015, when the case was still before the high court. It was subsequently moved to the tribunal for the sake of expediting the recovery of public funds, but the order remained binding.

The tribunal heard testimony from a former employee of the SIU who was involved in the investigation into one of the earliest scandals of the Zuma administration — the escalation from a security upgrade at the president’s home to a R246-million project that included a swimming pool, a chicken run, a cattle enclosure and an amphitheatre.

The security work was initially approved in 2009 at a cost of R27.2-million.

The SIU probe revealed repeated deviations from procurement rules as the cost and the scope of the work ballooned. Makhanya was employed as chief architect and coordinator at the former president’s behest.

A witness told the tribunal that a service fee of R2-million was paid to him without justification, and those who were appointed to assist him or serve as consultants were not registered on the state’s database as approved service providers.

Makhanya was granted permission to cross-examine the key witness. This was to happen on Wednesday but he requested a postponement. Pillay refused and Makhanya was admitted to hospital later in the day.

He is representing himself after running out of funds for lawyers and failing to qualify for legal aid. The hearing was initially set down for July but was postponed until this week to give him time to resolve this predicament. He sought another postponement last month, but this was refused.

The tribunal has brought six claims against Makhanya, who is now the sole person facing legal repercussions for the upgrade that spawned a parliamentary inquiry, widely deemed a whitewash, and a damning report by then public protector Thuli Madonsela, which pointed to procedural failings by several ministers and their departments.

In 2016, the constitutional court confirmed an order compelling Zuma to pay back R7.8-million to the state. It flowed from Madonsela’s directive that he should reimburse a “reasonable” portion of costs because he had derived substantial benefit from the abuse of funds.

Madonsela found that Makhanya’s actions were closely linked to the dramatic escalation of the cost of the project.

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