Nkandla. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE

Nkandla. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE

The R7.8m paid by President Jacob Zuma for non security upgrades to his Nkandla home might be the only money government ever recovers from the R240m lavished on the project.

Nkandla architect Minenhle Makhanya, who is accused of inflating the cost of the project, is still facing a R155m civil claim lodged by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). But his lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, says there has been no communication on the matter for almost six months.

The unit instituted proceedings against Makhanya, who was also Zuma’s personal architect, in 2014 in the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

"We are just recovering our costs at the moment ... Everything is in limbo," Xulu says.

The SIU tells the Financial Mail that it has "commenced with pre-trial preparation".

"The SIU will apply for a trial date in due course," says spokesman Sefura Mongalo.

However, Xulu says pre-trial procedures need to be followed.

"Parties have to discover documents which they are going to use in trial. We haven’t even reached that point. It’s just quiet," he says.

In March this year, Makhanya reportedly pleaded guilty to failing to submit his tax returns during the time he was earning from the Nkandla upgrades. He was ordered to pay a fine of R10,000, or face six months’ jail, wholly suspended for five years.

In June, it was revealed — in a reply to a question in parliament — that the National Prosecuting Authority was not planning to prosecute him or former directors-general in the department of public works, Siviwe Dongwana‚ Sam Vukela and Solomon Malebye.

Eleven public works officials were still facing disciplinary hearings.

The Public Servants Association (PSA) is representing the officials. It said the disciplinary hearings, which had started 18 months ago, were expected to get under way again.

The hearings were postponed after media houses applied to the high court for access to proceedings. Times Media Group, Media24 and the Mail & Guardian have been granted access.

PSA KwaZulu Natal manager Claude Naicker said the union had not officially heard from the department of public works, but heard "via the corridor" that it was going to set up the hearings shortly.

"So we are preparing our members for the hearings in anticipation that it will take place shortly," he said.

Asked if the PSA believed the officials should be facing disciplinary action, Naicker said there should have been mechanisms in place to avoid what happened during the Nkandla project.

The officials face charges relating to maladministration, misconduct and violating departmental procedures.

The SIU’s civil claim against Makhanya, the man said to be the "principal agent" on the Nkandla project, was still going ahead.

In its own report into the Nkandla upgrades, the unit said "through the unlawful‚ wrongful and negligent use of the powers that were granted to him‚ Makhanya inter alia increased the scope and extent of the works by designing and authorising items that were not required for security purposes‚ as determined by the SAPS (SA Police Service) and the SANDF (SA National Defence Force)‚ designed and produced more than had been requested and authorised and certified over-payments."

The nonsecurity upgrades approved by Makhanya, according to the SIU report, were the tunnels with an exit and three lifts (R21.1m); 20 additional houses for the SAPS and SANDF and a laundry facility (R11.9m); visitors’ lounge (R3.9m); basement parking for the clinic (R4.9m); VIP parking and the so-called "fire pool" (R3.9m); relocation of four households and partial restructuring of a house outside the complex (R10.6m); the construction of two roads inside the complex (R4.4m); installation of airconditioning in three of the private residences (R4m) and landscaping in the high-security area (R3.4m).

However, the SIU was unable to come to a conclusive finding about political interference.

Department of public works officials had alleged interference by former minister Geoff Doidge, former deputy minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu and Zuma himself.

Last month, Zuma paid back R7.8m for the upgrades to his home by securing a loan through VBS Mutual Bank. However, questions have been raised over how he obtained this loan in the face of the bank’s credit-granting criteria.

Opposition parties want proof that Zuma paid back the money for Nkandla "personally".

The DA says this is not the only money Zuma needs to pay back — there was also R63.9m in fringe-benefits tax.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said his party had specifically asked finance minister Pravin Gordhan, in parliamentary questions, whether anyone in SA was exempt from paying tax.

"There is not a different formula for him. It doesn’t matter who you are or how it works ... as long as you declare to say you gained this benefit, and the benefit is accrued at this cost, then it is quite straightforward," he said.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela, in her Nkandla report "Secure in Comfort", found Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from the upgrades.

Though tax information is private, Maimane said this matter was of public interest.