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Nkandla architect overpaid by more than R5m, witness tells hearing

The trial involving former president Jacob Zuma's architect Minenhle Makhanya began in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday. File photo.
The trial involving former president Jacob Zuma's architect Minenhle Makhanya began in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday. File photo.
Image: Thembinkosi Dwayisa

Five months after architect Minenhle Makhanya was appointed to oversee the upgrades at former president Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, the estimate for the project shot up from R27.8m to R161m.

This is according to evidence from an expert Special Investigating Unit witness at a hearing on Tuesday in which the unit is seeking to recover from Makhanya some of the taxpayers’ money spent on the controversial upgrades.

The witness said documents showed that a few days after a R161m tab in January 2010, it increased to R216m, including the cost of professional fees.

Makhanya, who was appointed as principal architect in August 2009, was “overpaid” by around R5.4m and there was evidence of mismanagement of funding for the project.

The witness, who has not been named, is giving evidence in camera before Special Tribunal judge Kate Pillay sitting in the Pietermaritzburg high court.

The hearing has been closed because sketches, drawings, house plans and other photographs of the homestead, as contained in police and army assessment reports, which could compromise the security of Zuma and his family, are to be presented.

Special Tribunal spokesperson Selby Makgotho is sitting in the hearing and is providing details of the evidence.

The witness said the sudden increase in the cost of the project was because of a variation in the scope of the work, including non-security measures such as the relocation of the tuck shop, chicken run, cattle kraal, construction of guard houses, visitors’ lounge, shaded parking for visitors and a “fire pool”, which was included as an option for firefighting.

She said Jean Rindel, who was the department of public work’s project manager, told the investigation team he had been “placed under immense pressure”.

“He could not explain how, for example, the chicken run was included. He said there was interference,” the witness said.

She said the addition of support staff residences, shaded parking, the helipad and air-conditioning increased the budget. These were apparently approved by the acting director-general of public works at the time.

While Rindel prepared a report for further funding of R77m, this was “strictly for security upgrades”. In August 2010, a further assessment was submitted, with no estimate of what was to be financed privately and publicly. This included the fire pool and guard house, car park, housing for workers, clinic and tuck shop. This amount was later revised to R100m.

The witness said Makhanya was responsible for design, payments, quality of work and submission of monthly reports.

“The contract administration was specially mentioned [in his contract] and imposed a duty of care on him on behalf of the department. He was expected to familiarise himself with the processes and ascertain the scope of the work as the lead architect.

“One of the  conditions was that he could not authorise changes to the upgrades or scope without written instructions from the department of public works. He was supposed to obtain prior written approval from the director-general.

“In essence, he was supposed to supply the department with certificates showing the budget previously allocated had either been depleted or was insufficient, and to motivate for further allocations.”

The witness said Makhanya should have assisted the department to save money. Instead he was in breach of his profession by increasing the scope of the work and signing off on variation amounts without authority.

For this reason, he was liable for the costs of the additional expenditure.

The hearing is continuing.