Durban - Nkandla architect Minenhle Makhanya has hired a top Cape Town law firm to defend a R155-million civil claim brought by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) against him.
The Mercury understands that Durban attorney Asif Latib had been acting for Makhanya, but he changed attorneys on Friday.
The City Press reported on Sunday that Makhanya had hired Barnabus Xulu, who has acted for Cape Judge President John Hlophe, to represent him.
While Xulu could not be reached for comment, he reportedly said a notice of intention to defend the claim would be filed on Monday in the Pietermaritzburg high court.
According to the court papers, the notice had to be filed within 20 days from August 11 when the matter was first filed.
Once that has been done, Makhanya has another 20 days to file a plea, where he responds to the allegations made in the claim.
If either the notice or plea is filed out of time, then the SIU can apply for judgment against him.
Makhanya is being sued by the SIU after an amendment to the law now allows the unit to institute civil action, on behalf of the State, against those it investigates.
The SIU has alleged that Makhanya was unlawfully appointed as the principal agent for the security upgrades, apart from being the architect on the project.
The unit claims that when Makhanya took over as principal agent, the costs of the upgrade shot from R27m to more than R200m, and they are holding him responsible for the funds paid to contractors.
The unit alleged there was no “competitive bidding process” prior to Makhanya’s appointment and he had not been on the Department of Public Work’s list of registered suppliers.
Public Works is the second respondent in the action but judgment is not claimed against it.
On Sunday, Latib confirmed he had been representing Makhanya but had been replaced.
“I received an e-mail from him saying that his family wanted to appoint another attorney.”
Latib also said he acted for Makhanya when the Public Protector had been investigating the security upgrades.
Apart from representing Hlophe when complaints were made against him by two Constitutional Court judges, Xulu is known as being one of the founders of the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust.
He is to sit on a ministerial inquiry, which was appointed by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, to probe the Lwandle evictions in Cape Town.
He once served as a legal adviser to Sisulu when she was the Defence Minister.