SIU case to recover millions from Nkandla architect begins in high court behind closed doors
The case in which the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is seeking to claw back some of the R246m spent on upgrades at former president Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead began in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday.
The SIU's Special Tribunal wants Minenhle Makhanya to pay back about R155m for the upgrades which were funded by the taxpayer.
However, the hearing is being heard in camera.
On application by the SIU, judge Kate Pillay ordered that the hearing be held behind closed doors because of confidential security information about Zuma’s homestead, which was expected to be disclosed.
The first witness to testify on behalf of the SIU is an expert forensic investigator.
Among the controversial upgrades were an amphitheatre, a swimming pool – labelled a “fire pool”, a helipad, a chicken run and expensive fencing.
The Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma must pay back some of the money, and the National Treasury determined the amount for non-security related upgrades to be R7.8m.
He secured a loan from VBS Mutual Bank to make this payment in 2016.
In a 2014 report on the matter, then public protector Thuli Madonsela said Makhanya was the de facto project manager, principal agent and go-between for government officials and Zuma at the time of the upgrades.
It was on his watch that the costs had escalated exponentially, rising by more than 200% in one year.
When Makhanya last appeared before judge Pillay earlier this year, he pleaded poverty and said his application to the Legal Aid board had been turned down. He indicated that he was appealing the decision.
On Monday, when the hearing began, Makhanya had no legal representative with him.
Advocate Vinay Gajoo, representing the SIU, said the matter had been in the courts since 2014 and needed to be brought to finality in the interests of justice, and there was public interest in the matter.
He indicated that the SIU would call three witnesses: the chief investigator, the architect and a quantity surveyor.
Makhanya said he had to represent himself, because his financial situation was bad.
He also claimed that he was not a lawyer, and could not follow legal proceedings.
Special Tribunal spokesperson Selby Makgotho said the first witness – who he did not identify – began evidence with the history of the project, which began in 2009. Makhanya had been appointed as project manager by the department of public works.
The first budget was an estimated R27m, but the project increased in scope with adjustments which ultimately led to a loss of R155m.
The witness said the former minister of public works, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, was interviewed during the subsequent investigation. She said in total:
- 110 interviews with high-ranking officials, contractors and consulting service providers were conducted;
- 59 statements were obtained; and
- 75 bank accountants of public works officials were scrutinised.
The hearing continues.