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Zuma architect too broke to fight SIU claim over Nkandla bill

25 April 2021 - 13:12 By aron hyman
Zuma architect Minenhle Makhanya told the Special Tribunal he has run out of money to pay his lawyers ahead of a possible July trial date.
Zuma architect Minenhle Makhanya told the Special Tribunal he has run out of money to pay his lawyers ahead of a possible July trial date.
Image: Thembinkosi Dwayisa

Former president Jacob Zuma's architect, Minenhle Makhanya, said to have pocketed R16m from the controversial Nkandla project, is now too broke to pay lawyers to fight the Special Investigation Unit’s (SIU) attempts to recoup money for the R246m state-funded upgrade to the homestead.

Makhanya’s lawyers laid bare Makhanya's financial situation before Judge Kate Pillay in the Department of Justice’s Special Tribunal sitting in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Friday.

The SIU is trying to recoup R155m from Makhanya as it claims he was responsible for escalating the controversial upgrade’s price tag from R27m to R246m.

“The main allegation is that there has been an escalation of prices, and the other allegation that needs to be tested is that his appointment was done irregularly,” said Special Tribunal spokesperson Selby Makgotho.

“The dispute emanates from the alleged inflation of prices and procurement irregularities in the security arrangements at the private residence of the former head of state, Mr Jacob Zuma, in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal,” said Makgotho.

The SIU brought the application against Makhanya in the Pietermaritzburg high court in 2014. The file was transferred to the Special Tribunal, which was established in 2019 to institute civil recovery proceedings brought before it by the SIU.

The tribunal said in a statement that Makhanya’s lawyers told the court that they were appearing on a pro-bono basis because their client could no longer afford to pay them.

They tribunal was told that his lawyers had sought the intervention of the Legal Aid Board but the application was turned down.

“The appeal process of that application is pending and is expected to take another month before it could be finalised,” Makgotho said in a statement.

Makhanya's lawyers said an alternative would be to approach the SIU for legal assistance, but the SIU argued that they could not assist the defendant as they were seeking money from him on behalf of the state.

“Judge Pillay expressed concern that the matter had dragged on for too long and that it would be in the interests of justice to bring finality,” Makgotho said.

Pillay ordered Makhanya to comply with the Special Tribunal directives by May 30, failing which he will be held in contempt.

She said there would be “consequences if the defendant does not comply with these directives”.

The directives included giving the Special Tribunal the list of witnesses, including expert witnesses, who will be called to testify for the defendant; clarity on whether there will be photographs or video recordings at the hearing of the trial and whether there are other items, documents or objects that will be used as evidence during the upcoming trial.

“Judge Pillay expressed concern that the litigants have taken a long time to narrow the issues and prepare the matter for trial. The Special Tribunal is ready to hear the parties and conduct trial, she said,” said Makgotho.

At the end of the Special Tribunal meeting, the parties proposed that  trial be set down for three weeks in July or early August.