Church body, Dutch university deny CV claims by ex-ANC aide
ENI - 16 February 2009
Hans Pienaar and Anli Serfontein
Johannesburg/Utrecht (ENI). A former leader of South Africa's Rhema Bible Church, Carl Niehaus, who until last week was official spokesperson for the ruling African National Congress party, has falsely claimed he had a doctorate summa cum laude in theology from the University of Utrecht.
Niehaus, one of the few white members of the armed wing of the ANC and a political prisoner under apartheid, stepped down as party spokesperson after he admitted to fraud, but the party said it would retain him on its staff.
His CV posted online on several Web sites claims that during his time as South Africa's ambassador to The Netherlands from 1997 to 2000 Carl Niehaus obtained master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Utrecht.
"While in the Netherlands, he also studied and obtained his Masters and Doctorates in Theology Summa cum Laude from the University of Utrecht," states the Web site of his company M & C Investment Holdings.
A spokesperson for the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, Ludo Koks, told Ecumenical News International on 16 February, "Mr Niehaus has not received a doctorate degree from our university."
Niehaus was one of the first Afrikaners from South Africa's ruling minority to join the armed struggle with the ANC liberation movement during the fight against apartheid. He was interviewed last week by the weekly Mail and Guardian newspaper with details of its investigations into his affairs. In his interview Niehaus broke down and wept, said the newspaper.
He admitted he had forged the names of top politicians in order to secure a loan to pay for debts arising from an extravagant lifestyle.
The CV also states that Niehaus, "chairs the Finance Committee of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), and is also a member of various international socio-religious study groups of the World Council of Churches (WCC)."
The general secretary of the SACC, Eddie Makue, told Ecumenical News International, "He is not the chairperson of the SACCs finance committee."
A spokesperson for the Geneva-based WCC said Niehaus was not listed as serving on any WCC groups. "The fact that he mentions the WCC in his CV is probably based on an association of some kind, but the fact that he's not in the WCC database suggests that association wasn't very strong if it ever existed," said the WCC spokesperson.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretary general said the revelations were part of a smear campaign against the ruling party and asserted, "There will be stories about leaders of the ANC up to April 22," the day of South Africa's fourth national elections since the end of apartheid.
"The ANC wishes to state emphatically that whatever his personal difficulties, Niehaus remains a loyal and valued cadre of our movement. We will stand by him and assist him during this difficult period," said Mantashe, who also heads the South African Communist Party.
The ANC's approach to the disclosures about Niehaus provoked strong condemnation from opposition politicians, observers and the media, at a time when the party's own leader, Jacob Zuma, is himself fighting to stay out of court on multiple corruption charges.
Niehaus was a protégé of anti-apartheid theologian Beyers Naudé, an Afrikaner cleric who became an anti-apartheid icon for his lone resistance in Afrikaner church circles to apartheid. He organized Naudé's funeral with the family and he still serves on the board of the Beyers Naudé Fund.
SACC officials, when asked about Niehaus, had said the council did not want to get involved in the "political matter".
People who know the SACC said that Niehaus had not been formally involved with the SACC for 15 years. He had been approached to serve on certain committees, one council insider said, requesting anonymity, but he had been found to be unsuitable for the particular posts. The SACC's last known dealings with Niehaus were in 2004 when he delivered the funeral oration for Naudé,
Niehaus had himself been lauded as a hero in the anti-apartheid struggle. He spent several years in jail in the late 1980s with his wife Jansie Lourens after they had been caught plotting to blow up a municipal gas works in Johannesburg.
He served as former president Nelson Mandela's spokesperson after they had been released from jail and then embarked on a career as political negotiator, ambassador to the Netherlands and an entrepreneur.
But an extravagant lifestyle - which included flying between appointments in a helicopter - saw him, by his own admission, sink into debt. On one occasion he spent a night in jail after failing to pay hotel bills. He appeared to be leaving one job after another under a cloud, as he tried to borrow money from friends and fellow party members, while failing to repay previous loans.
Last week the Rhema Bible Church had denied claims in local papers, based on Niehaus’s own admissions, that he was owing it 700 000 South African rand (about US$70 000).
Niehaus resigned in 2005 as the church's chief executive officer. At the time, the church denied claims that Niehaus had paid himself or had received "unfitting bonuses". On 13 February the church said in a statement that a loan advanced to Niehaus had been settled.
Among several admissions, Niehaus said he had forged the signatures of several top officials while chief executive of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency for the province of South Africa that includes Johannesburg.
Some blogs on South African newspaper sites have been sympathetic to Niehaus. "The Carl Niehaus matter has once again raised the issue of our society being seriously lacking in compassion or understanding. While I in no way condone Mr Niehaus's behaviour, nor am I an avid 'Niehaus supporter', it needs to be said that he is just a man. As I have pointed out in the comments on related articles, people do stupid things when they are desperate," wrote a blogger on news24.com/News24/MyNews24/Your_story.
ENI featured articles are taken from the full ENI Daily News Service. ENI Web site www.eni.ch
© 1994 - 2009 Ecumenical News International.