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Stalled project gobbles up billions as Department of Public Works officials ignore cheaper solution

News Reporter


The South African government is losing billions of Rands every year due to a lackadaisical failure by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure due to a building project that has stalled for about 12 years.

The Public Works House, formerly known as TPA (Transvaal Provincial Administration) Building renovation project, began in 2008, and is believed to be gobbling up R1.2billion from both government and the taxpayer in rentable income and other services every year. From the assessment of the service provider – the reason for this can better be understood by digging into history relating to this building.

The building, located at the corner of Bosman and Church Streets, is the subject of heated and unprecedented contestation – and it’s believed that it is not only for nefarious financial reasons. Records will demonstrate that PWH was built to immortalize and celebrate white supremacy. This is evidenced by its world-class design and technological advancement. It was designed by Meiring and Naude Architects, and built from 1955 to 1963 as the administrative headquarters of the then apartheid government. It was inaugurated by CR Swart (president of the Republic of SA) and to this day there are plaques that bear his name and that of ‘apartheid master-mind’, HF Verwoerd. It is no wonder that no cent was spared in creating this architectural ‘icon’, which, according to records, was the highest in the country. Why it holds so much symbolic and sentimental value for those that still identify with that era.

But the secret to this building perhaps, is less to do with the edifice itself, than it is to do with the artefacts it contains and custom-made Victorian style timber interiors. Although the cast iron busts of CR Swart and HF Verwoerd, located in a prime position inside the building are amongst a few bitter reminders of South Africa’s dark past, the government at the time seems to have inadvertently commissioned art work by the world-renowned Alexis Preller, amongst others for PWH. Ironically, whilst he was born in Pretoria under an apartheid government, he studied in Britain and Paris, which probably explains why, contrary to his peers, he was a liberal whose work sought to showcase early African civilizations.

His world-famous 13m mural called Discovery explores the history of colonization in SA, and how that, contrary to the popular narrative – that Africans were far more sophisticated than some would like to believe during that period. In fact, this mural and the Golden Rhinocerous of Mapungubwe, which are supposed to be protected as national assets are both key to revealing the rich history of southern Africa, which the apartheid government sought to erase. The golden rhino is one of the only known artefacts that shows evidence of mining; production; and African trade between the Great Zimbabwe; South Africa; and Zambia of as early as the 10th century. Ironically, both these pieces occupy a prime spot in the Javett Art Centre in the University of Pretoria, and how they mysteriously vanished from PWH and for these artefacts to be used as the main ‘draw card’ in a university is something that needs to be investigated.

Based against this backdrop PWH it can be agreed that PWH is a national asset that should be protected not only for practical purposes, but also to be re-imagined into a symbol of hope for current and future generations.

Instead of this, PWH has become a ‘political football’ for bureaucrats with vested interests, and lying virtually redundant since 1996. So fierce is this contestation that remnants of the white officials in NDPWI have ‘collaborated’ with UP (University of Pretoria); the Dutch government; and private sector specialists to regain control of PWH. After the contract was awarded to a black consortium, and their designs were approved, the project was ‘hijacked’ by Head Office (a process driven by white officials), who then sought to terminate the contract in. 2015 under the guise that the work of the consortium was of poor quality. In 2016 the officials seemingly roped in UP, and they in turn roped in the Dutch government to undertake studies of the building, with the ultimate objective of making recommendations of what should be done with PWH.

When it became apparent that this approach was not gaining enough traction, the masterminds behind this, convinced Top Management in 2017 that the project needs to be stopped, and that a tender should go out to appoint a professional team under the guise that they are to ‘investigate’ the work of MUC (the consortium) – this was a ‘first’ in the history of the Department.

Unfortunately for the Department, they were caught in a predicament, because the qualifying bidder was a black consortium. Having hit a dead end, they then decided to outsource this function too DBSA, who did not have the expertise to undertake such a complex project. They in turn decided to out on tender and appointed a company known as T2-Tech, who did not have the requisite qualifications and expertise. They then seemingly cut a deal with a white-owned company known as Aurecon, and which had links with the Department.

The results of that investigation have been concealed, yet the Department claims that they affirm the earlier decision of the Department to terminate the contract. Based on this experience, MUC came to a sad realization, that Top Management is completely powerless because they are almost entirely reliant on the white elite both within Government and consultants to ‘run the show’, even at cost of service delivery and black empowerment, simply because they lack confidence and technical knowledge.

At least two ministerial directives from two former ministers who were in charge of the department – Thulasi Nxesi and Nkosinathi Nhleko, for the department to settle the matter amicably without having to further strain the public purse through avoidable and unnecessary legal costs.

Apparently, the directives – given in 2015 and 2017, were totally ignored by previous Director-Generals, Mziwonke Dlabantu and Advocate Sam Vukela. It remains to be seen as to whether the current Acting-DG, Imtiaz Fazel, will act on the ministerial directives, especially considering that previous legal opinions that an out-of-court settlement would be in the best interest of the Department, and  prevent further unnecessary expenditure. It is now well-known that this phenome and culture of frustrating black professionals is endemic within the Department. This is done with the ultimate aim of handing over the projects to white companies, especially with large projects, as seen in our narrative.

One such opinion came from the DDG Corporate Services in 2017 by Adv. Vukela before he was appointed the Director-General. Interestingly, when he was appointed DG, Adv Vukela ignored a ministerial directive from Minister Nhleko, for him to resolve the matter, based on his recommendation while he was still DDG Corporate Services. He sat on the matter until his recent suspension. It remains unknown why Adv. Vukela failed to implement his own recommendation when he assumed the DG seat.Further information at hand reveals that PWH is about 95 000sqm, and that the Department takes a hard-line stance in pursuit of  the lawsuit that is before the North High Court under case number 69968/2015, involving the continuation of the stalled project

MUC  argues that the DPW’s case has a high chance of being ill-fated, as NDPWI which is why they have resorted ‘mafia tactics’ disguised as ‘quality assurance’ which have so far not yielded any positive results, but wasted tax-payers’ money instead.

It is also worth noting that the project, over-and-above departmental approval, obtained the following approvals:

  1. Fire rationale designs from the Fire Department
  2. Council approval
  3. EIA approval
  4. Occupational Health and Safety Approval

This is despite the purported false narrative by professionals at the HQwho sought to override the already approved documentation by the Pretoria Regional Office.

The black service provider’s allegation on that is that DPWI withheld the DBSA’s workshop report, because the contents were not favouring DPWI, hence they refused to release it to.

According to MUC, in the last meeting on the on-going saga, in March 2020, one the department’s Chief Architects said that: “Having reviewed all the documentation that was submitted to DBSA I have a difficulty justifying the termination of the contract based on the quality of your technical documentation.” While the building continues to lie idle, its condition is deteriorating daily with neither any maintenance nor means of abating the situation.

“More than R1.2 billion is being lost due to this wastefulness, which excludes additional losses from electrical infrastructure being stolen. There is more deterioration caused by seasonal basement flooding and also decorative copper claddings being stolen. Valuable artefacts are also being stolen and some transferred to private galleries,” said the representative from Muhle Unlimited Consortium.

“The artworks, worth millions, which were under the care of the Architectural Services Division, have disappeared, with some now at the University of Pretoria. The big question for the Department is, who are the beneficiaries should the leadership not be reported to the Public Protector for their mishandling of the project which has led to hundreds of millions being lost?”

Ironically, one of the buildings under the DPW’s custodianship, the 94 000sqm Civitas Building – renovated in 2007 for a whooping R1.1B has huge OHS problems.

“The building that was renovated under the supervision of a white servicer provider had an initial budget of about R250m, which mysteriously quadrupled to R1.1b, and was rushed,”    adds the source. To this day it has not been investigated as to what happened to the R850m.

“The technical documentation was way below the acceptable departmental standards and National Building Regulations requirements, but the project went ahead anyway. The budget has ballooned four-fold through huge unjustifiable variation orders, but still, the building has now been condemned.

“The occupant – the National Department of Health, has since been toldto relocate from this unsafe after a Labour Department inspector declared the building unsafe and unhealthy for employees.”

Questions sent to the Department of Public Works & Infrastructure last week were neither acknowledged nor responded to at the time of going to print, but insiders say the Department of Health will be occupied on a lease rental pegged at R116/sqm at Exxaro, translating to about R10.9m/month. That amounts to more or less the same amount of loss being incurred at the Public Works House Building.

“The Department of Public Works and  Infrastructure is also renting three other buildings, Nipilar House, AVN  and Centre Walk, not mentioning storage being laid to outside service providers,” said the source.

“All the staff from the three buildings being rented could have been accommodated in Public Works House and use storage in the basements that is already designed well suited for that and is empty right now.”

One wonders where the accounting is in these scenario, when the leadership of the Department will be held accountable this monumental waste!!!

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