An anonymous Knysna whistleblower’s family allegedly under siege – computer hacked, electronically threatened with death, and physically stalked. That’s what one of their 4 bodyguards said.
Considering the possible danger to them, this writer held back on this story for 9 months, hoping the authorities would step in to deliver justice (instead, they’ve failed in many ways). But with more people contacting me, the story is leaking, so I splash it here.
THE VAN NIEKERK FAMILY
Fulcrum Limited, trading as Maritime Risk Solutions (MRS), has been operating in South Africa since 2004, their office, for the most part, based on the prestigious Thesen Islands in Knysna. They claim that their two full-time clients are Danish shipping companies, Thorco Shipping and Uni-Tankers. MRS provides security against pirates in the Middle East, West Africa and East Africa. It’s a business as necessary and muddy as mercenaries, sometimes with insufficient control of offshore activities. Sometimes, as in this case, there’s a lack of accountability by government onshore… here, maybe deliberately.
At face value, Maritime Risk Solutions (MRS) is a family affair. Hermanus van Niekerk is Operations Director and Financial Director. His wife, Dr Margaretha Alice van Niekerk, is a psychologist and the Managing Director. Hermanus van Niekerk Jnr was, until recently, a senior operator. Another operator, Vaughan Smit, married their daughter.
Both Hermanus prefer to be called “Herman”. She, Herman Snr’s second wife, prefers “Retha”.
I’ve met the men and some of their family. Herman Jnr was a good guy to have a beer and laugh with at Kings pub. Herman Snr appeared with me in a documentary called ‘Cocaine Captains’. We were filmed separately but, later when I met him, I appreciated his desire to set up anti-smuggling boat patrols close to Knysna’s beaches and on the estuary. However, I began to doubt his intentions and ability as I encountered several of his family members being on drugs (their names withheld out of respect for their personal battles).
After attending only a weekend course in Krav Magra in JHB, the Hermans decided to open a branch in Knysna, themselves the trainers for the Israeli self-defence technique. I chose not to report on the absurdity, mistakenly interpreting it as optimism and enthusiasm. However, concern lagged in me, catching pace as their latest episode unfolded.
FRAUDSTER RETHA VAN NIEKERK
Retha van Niekerk has been labelled online and offline as a doctor, trauma counsellor, mental health care specialist, clinical psychologist and psychologist.
Except, she has no training and, thus, is definitely not a doctor. She’s a con artist adding fantasy titles atop questionable qualifications that began with a Texas degree mill called the University of Sedona which offers metaphysical “degree” courses by email. In one year, you can gain a bachelor degree, a masters degree and a doctorate. For an extra $400, you can add a second doctorate.
Retha has altered her details on Facebook and LinkedIn, likely once she’d become aware of investigation by the HPCSA (Health Professional Council of South Africa). But the internet has a long memory. The comparison between old and new pages reiterates her deception. Rather than owning her mistakes, she’s attempted to hide them, maybe to cling to the relationships she lied to.
Emphasising irony is the title of an article she wrote for Soulwoman eMagazine, as edited by Karen Ferguson. It was called ‘Dream It, Do It’, crediting Retha as a “doctor”. Published in 2015, it includes her claim of having 2 bachelor degrees, 2 masters degrees and a doctorate. The qualifications claim was ambiguous, either meant to read as all, or partly, in metaphysics. The magazine never mentioned what the other degrees were…
…but on Linkedin she has claimed that her 5 qualifications include:
- Masters Psy.D University of Arizona
- BA Clinical Psychology North-West University
- Masters Clinical Psychology UNISA
The accredited University of Arizona (USA) doesn’t offer that qualification and have no record of her. But it’s unlikely coincidence that she’d elsewhere listed the unaccredited spiritual University of Sedona which is also in Arizona. Sedona appears to be a degree mill – for only $1500, you can earn a bachelor, masters and a doctorate in only 1 year.
“PsyD” is the abbreviation for Doctor of Psychology whereas “M.Psy.D.”, which Sedona provides, stands for Doctor of Metaphysical Psychology which, in turn and unsurprisingly, has no relation to the real definition of metaphysics as found in the field of philosophy.
Then there’s possible, partial identity theft… There’s currently a Doctor Retha van Niekerk lecturing at North-West University in Potchestroom. Again, coincidence would be too much to believe – she has 5 degrees (real ones), the same number that the Knysna version of her name claims to have. Additionally, the real doctor is a psychologist specialising in early childhood development.
For parents and schools, the toughest pill to swallow will be Margaretha ‘Retha’ Van Niekerk’s working with their children. Unlike her North-West University counterpart, Van Niekerk isn’t a well respected leader in the field.
Rheta claims to have trained senior national athletes yet never named them on the internet. Nor does google associate her with any adult athletes of calibre. However, it’s true that she’s an athlete (having competed in field events) and trains schoolkids on the premises of Oakhill, Knysna Primary and Knysna High School. That, too, arrives with a warning sign…
She’s an administrator of the the Knysna Dragons Swimming Academy Facebook page. She is the Club’s Chairperson. When she became the assistant swimming coach, it was stated to parents that she was a psychologist, had experience with children and had worked for Swimming SA.
Swimming SA cannot recall who she is.
Grant Ferguson is the founder of the Knysna Dragons child swimmers’ club. His wife is Karen Ferguson, friend of Retha, and also the editor of Soulwoman Magazine which published that she had 5 degrees.
Instead of doing what would be expected, which is to ask questions and protect the integrity of the organisation, Board Member Nicholas Cole stated that this writer had, “Sadly opened up the dialogue in a negative space. This got my back up a bit as well as Grants, it would seem.”
Grant’s response included, “Not cool Mike. This was the biggest waste of time and energy I have dealt with in a long time.”
It’s also tough medicine for the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA). There, Retha is “an executive member”, currently their Marriage Officer Registrar, and was the Acting Director 2014-2016. She’s also a permanent administrative member of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC).
In 2015, Penton Magazine, as run by, Damon Leff, a friend of Retha, the current director of the SAPRA and a director of SAPC, referred to her as a “trauma counsellor”.
When SAPRA hosted a Citizenship and Advocacy seminar, Retha was billed “as a parent herself, her chosen field of advocacy… religion and education.” Her speech was entitled ‘Advocacy in Pagan Religion’. She stated that she worked with local schools, that including her describing herself as a child counsellor.
Damon Leff’s ignored a request for a statement, on behalf of the SAPRA and SAPC, regarding Retha. He also ignored the question: “How is it possible that you, after a long, close relationship with her, couldn’t know that her qualifications were fake?” Instead, his uninformative and unconcerned response included, “Anything to do with either Retha or Herman should be addressed to them personally.” He CCied them too.
Retha claims to have worked for large companies (BMW SA, Nissan SA, Landrover SA, British Airways, Nationwide and ComAir). This writer has yet to confirm or discredited those claims. Similarly, as I’m a citizen journalist and activist, I don’t have the resources to discover what she was involved in as a Director of 7 companies in the past, or why she went insolvent in 2003.
THE ILLEGAL MARITIME RISK SOLUTIONS COMPANY
Past the guaranteed shock of parents and a social circle, the focus must be on Retha’s role as Mrs Maritime Risk solutions (MRS). How dangerous is it for a fake psychologist to psychoanalyse international security guards who’re going to be approved for high-powered, automatic weapons?
MSR claims to have “120 skilled, vetted and trained personnel with offensive sea and land borne experience. Each selected Marine Security Specialist is subjected to a unique researched and predetermined Personality Profile Analysis to ensure quality of men in the service.”
Herman Snr is an ex-army Colonel that retired in 1999 and went on to work for Petro SA.
He must be in on the fraud, as an owner of the illegal company and by association with his wife and her fake degrees. The latter is emphasised by his MBA (Masters in Business Administration) being fake too. It was issued by Belford University which offers online, unaccredited degrees. It’s post box address was in Texas (as Sedona was for Retha) but qualifications were mailed from the United Arab Emirates. Its founder would later be discovered to be working from Karachi, Pakistan. The New York Times described it as taking the “centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turning it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale”.
The Van Niekerks claim that they own a weapons training range and that their staff are well-armed and qualified to carry a variety of automatic weapons such as the AK47 and M16. These are disturbing claims considering that to carry such lethal weapons, the company would have to be registered with PSIRA (which they aren’t) so that their staff can qualify for a Grace C weapons. If they haven’t jumped through the smallest loops then it’s unlikely they’ve jumped through the biggest in order to qualify as trainers with their own shooting range. In fact, the only range in Knysna is in Homtini Sport Shooting Club which hosts the Hominiti Tactical Shooting Academy (neither owned by them).
Notably, Herman van Niekerk Jnr was arrested in Dubai for an alleged R1.6-million fraud involving identity theft. However, he was released when they realised he was too young to be the “Herman van Niekerk” they were look for. Were foreign authorities looking for Herman Snr?
ARE SOUTH AFRICAN AUTHORITIES SUPPORTING CORRUPTION?
How can two fraudsters run a dangerous company for so long without the authorities having gotten wind of them? Is it possible that their presence was known but deliberately ignored?
Why did PSIRA, the security registrations body, not immediately close them down, as they have done to other offenders, but instead gave them 120 days to get their papers in order?
Why has the South African Department of International Relations and Coordination not acted against MRS false claim that they’re certified by them?
Why have the police, who have known about the situation for at least 9 months, failed to make an arrest despite a family being in danger?
It may be irrelevant to this situation but it’s certain that the Van Niekerks have ties to power. They are two of the three shareholders in Vexicorp which describes itself as a company trading in oil and energy. The 51% partner in Vexicorp is Herman Moeketsi. Moeketsi was the ex-Marketing Director of the Land Bank who issued a fortune in dubious loans.He was also implicated in a R2-billion Iran helicopter deal. He was investigated by the Hawks and the Public Protector but never prosecuted.
Vexicorp was opened in 2009. Strangely, the same year, the Van Niekerks opened another company called Market Traders Institute Africa, also trading in oil and energy. Herman Snr is the Managing Director for both, claiming that their relationship with Moeketsi is for BEE purposes.
To dig into that story is beyond the means of this writer. What I could do is contact PSIRA, HSPCA and the Knysna SAPS (as headed by Colonel Atwell Metu) – twice. Worryingly, all failed to respond.
However, a Brigadier Neil Oliver. the Western Cape Head of the Hawks, told me that I should lay charges so they can investigate but that makes no sense since the police are already involved and thus there is an open case (to which I’m asking why investigation hasn’t been concluded).
The Van Niekerks have denied the allegations, Herman Snr sending an email on behalf of him, his wife and Maritime Risk Solutions.
Herman Snr said that Maritime Risk Solutions is based in Holland and has and ISO/PAS28007 certification. “The security operations are managed from Germany and the area of operation is in international waters and, as such, no South African legislation has any relevance. The South African office serves purely as an Human Resources facility.”
That statement raises red flags.
It obviously makes no sense that if a company were based overseas that local law wouldn’t apply to them.
There’s a Holland (and a Scandinavian contact) listed on the Maritime Risk Solutions (MRS) website. They use post boxes, not street addresses. There’s a USA contact too (again, Texas comes up), but only a telephone number. In all likelihood, these are agents or sub-contractors, not offices.
On the Offshore Technology website I found their claim that their “offices are in South Africa, Holland and Seychelles.” No evidence of Seychelles office has been provided. And, in an email, Herman Snr stated that there were offices in Germany, again no evidence provided.
In addition to the Human Resources Manager, the Managing Director, Operations Director, Financial Director and Field Operations Manager (which are all the Van Niekerks), are obviously located in Knysna where they live. Herman Snr is also the contact for the Personal Security Division i.e. bodyguards. The company is very much based in South Africa and PSIRA demands that they be registered.
He stated that the Commander of the Knysna SAPS “rejected [the allegations] as a load of rubbish” and that the HPSCA cleared Retha. They state that it’s a personal defamation campaign against them, initiated by a woman and an accomplice whom they criminally charged in response, in August 2016. Strangely, they don’t name the people involved. Herman Snr considers the “woman” to not be a whistleblower but a “fool” and “a very ruthless individual”.
That doesn’t add up because if the police considered the allegations to be ‘rubbish’, then why hasn’t the case been closed? And why’s there no explanation for someone possessing motive for such allegedly strong actions against them. Furthermore, the statement by Herman Snr that there’s an open docket” and “the moment you publish any of this we will have her arrested as she signed a formal warning affidavit” is threat, not truth. Firstly, I’m a citizen activist and reporter, not an employee of a third party’s agenda. Secondly, I’ve never heard of a “formal warning affidavit”. The nearest would be the acceptance of a protection order but few would sign such without first going to court. More relevant is that if there had been signature to guilt, there wouldn’t be an “open docket”.
The Van Niekerks failed to answer the majority of the 34 questions I sent them, and failed to provide proof of their statements. However, when i queried their lack of cooperation, all 34 questions were responded to, but evasively and without any proof backing them up, Herman Snr now claiming that the information is sub judice. Without him proving a case, it cannot be sub judice i.e. secret. Furthermore, proving one’s company being legal can never be secret.
Although the Knysna community has been a magnet for memorable fraudsters, it will be shocked as the Van Niekerks are well known and established. This writer, as stated, has previously met Herman van Niekerk Snr and his children several times. Deputy Mayor Peter Myers and his wife, Candace, are friends with the Van Niekerks.
Surely some in the Van Niekerk’s lives, from family to friends, must have been aware of some of the many inconsistencies in their cover story? In Knysna, a small town and sometimes microcosm, there’s the tendency to ignore troubles for the sake of social convenience. Is that why the Knysna Dragons, SAPC and SAPRA are being unhelpful?
The collective failure of the SAPS, HPCSA and PSIRA is scary.
I met the whistleblower whose family is under threat. They wouldn’t cooperate, changing my intended approach to this story, but inadvertently confirmed the threat against them by Maritime Risk Services (MRS) when they stated they were scared for their children. They said they’d tried many avenues to get help, concluding that our government was either incompetent or, more worryingly, protecting the Van Niekerks. With no one to trust, they’ve decided to leave the country.
Herman van Niekerk Snr warned me that I’d become an accomplice in a criminal case if I published this article but what else can a moral person do when the authorities have failed and our community is at risk.
CONTACTS & RESOURCES
My lack of resources don’t allow me to pursue this fraud story further. As I’m blocked by most media in our country, owing to their blatant political bias as I attempt to bring crooked Democratic Alliance politicians to justice, I post these contacts in the hope that someone else gives this the attention that it deserves.
- MRS Managing Director firstname.lastname@example.org (Retha van Niekerk)
- MRS Operations Director email@example.com (Herman van Niekerk)
- HPCSA – ClarenceC@hpcsa.co.za and firstname.lastname@example.org
- SAPRA & SAPC – email@example.com (Damon Leff)
- Knysna Dragons – firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com (Grant Ferguson)
- Knysna SAPS Detectives – KnysnaCID@saps.gov.za (Colonel Metu & Colonel Khan)
“There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy,
hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny.”
– Frederick William Robertson
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Read the bizarre sequel: ‘South African Witches & Vampires Supporting Fraud’.