South Africa

AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

‘You are on your own’ – Former Hawks officer claims SAPS threw him to the dogs after his father’s assassination

‘You are on your own’ – Former Hawks officer claims SAPS threw him to the dogs after his father’s assassination
From left: Police cordon off the crime scene where Nicholas Heerschap, father of former Warrant Officer Nico Heerschap, was shot and killed by alleged hitmen at Melkbosstrand on 9 July 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Network24 / Jaco Marais) | Former Warrant Officer Nico Heerschap. (Photo: Supplied)

Former Hawks officer Nico Heerschap is suing the police for R13m after his father was assassinated in a case of mistaken identity, a killing Heerschap believes could have been prevented. In response, the police claim Nico Heerschap was running a side business that operated in competition with alleged underworld figure Nafiz Modack.

Nicolaas Heerschap (74) was assassinated in front of his family’s Melkbosstrand house four years ago on 9 July 2019. His son, former Hawks Warrant Officer Nico Heerschap (48), appeared to be the intended target.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Maverick, Nico Heerschap discussed his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which resulted in his leaving SAPS, the legal action he’s taken against the police, and how he believes his life is still in danger because the hitman who killed his father took out the wrong target.

Heerschap believes his life has been further jeopardised after his father’s murder case was added to the combined indictment against alleged underworld figure Nafiz Modack, an indictment which includes the murder of late Anti-Gang Unit detective Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear.

Modack is the main accused in a major murder case involving more than 3,000 charges. Heerschap is a State witness in the criminal matter against Modack.

There appear to be striking similarities between the assassinations of Kinnear and Heerschap senior. Kinnear and Nico Heerschap’s phones were both tracked through pinging before the incidents. Three days before the killing of Heerschap’s father, Nico’s work cellphone was pinged.

Both Kinnear and Nico Heerschap were investigating Modack when the murders took place.

Following the murder of his father, Heerschap went on two weeks’ sick leave owing to PTSD. He never returned to work and he subsequently retired due to ill health on 31 August 202o. He is currently selling second-hand cars.

Heerschap blames his bosses at SAPS for the death of his father, contending they did not respond to threats made against him and failed to provide protection for him and his family.

“I’ve completed several cases of fraud and money laundering involving asset finance against Modack,” he told Daily Maverick.

According to Heerschap’s court papers, his investigations led to 23 dockets being opened against Modack regarding his alleged illegal commercial activities.

When Heerschap’s father was killed, rumours circulated that Modack had allegedly ordered the hit. Modack was eventually charged with the murder of Heerschap, when hitman Abongile Nqodi implicated Modack directly.

With this information at his disposal, Heerschap issued a summons against the Minister of Police, the National Police Commissioner, the Western Cape police commissioner and the head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), known as the Hawks.

Pleading papers were filed on 7 July 2022 at the Western Cape High Court and Heerschap is claiming R13-million for pain and suffering and future loss of income.

Kinnear’s murder exposed deep distrust and backstabbing among SAPS officers and, explaining why he was going to court, Heerschap told Daily Maverick: “Everything that happened to the late Kinnear, happened to me. SAPS threw me to the dogs.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS threw Charl Kinnear to the wolves

Heerschap contends in court papers that SAPS did not take any steps to protect or secure the lives or wellbeing of him and his family. He felt isolated and had to take his own steps to secure his house.

SAPS failures

“Two weeks after the assassination of my father, I was instructed to return to work or book off sick,” Heerschap told Daily Maverick. He said SAPS at that stage still hadn’t provided a management plan for his family’s protection.

“I informed my superiors that I would not return to work as the SAPS could not protect me. SAPS then concluded that I should retire on the grounds of ill health and that they would not stand in my way.”

What hurt the most, he said, was that he felt that the police had essentially told him, “You are on your own.”

No personal protection or safe house was offered; in fact, it was refused, he said.

He subsequently left the force due to ill health on 31 August 2020. In the summons, Heerschap contends he had to leave the service owing to the inaction and negligence of SAPS, as they failed to protect and secure his and his family’s wellbeing.

Heerschap further contends that his ill-health retirement was because of his PTSD, which was directly related to the Modack investigation and the killing of his father.

Heerschap also raises the contentious issue of SAPS’s firearm policy. If a police member is diagnosed with PTSD, they must return their weapon. He requested to keep his firearm to protect him and his family, which SAPS refused.

He argues in the summons that SAPS has a constitutional duty not only to protect the general public, but also to protect its employees. In his summons, Heerschap contends that SAPS:

  • Failed to take reasonable steps and would have foreseen the reasonable possibility that their failure to take the steps would injure Heerschap and his family;
  • Failed to take reasonable steps to guard against the murder of his father;
  • Failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of employment by Heerschap; and
  • As a reasonable employer, failed to consider the gravity of the possible consequences of its conduct or inaction and the burden to eliminate such a risk in that Heerschap and his family could have been killed and or injured.

 Alleged surveillance

In the court papers, Heerschap further claims that he informed the authorities several times of suspicious cars driving past his home, that he received threatening messages and that there was a campaign to discredit him. The papers say:

  • On 29 August 2016, Modack and his bodyguard Louis Visser allegedly carried out a drive-by past Heerschap in a BMW without any number plates;
  • Another drive-by occurred on 31 August 2016 by a black Volkswagen Polo with an EC number plate. It was later discovered that a family member of Modack was the driver of the vehicle. Heerschap reported the incidents to his superiors;
  • On 22 November 2016, Heerschap received an SMS threatening his family. A case was opened at the Cape Town SAPS. A forensic investigator at Absa involved in the Modack probe informed Heerschap that he also received threatening SMS against his family, 11 minutes after Heerschapp received his threats; and
  • Heerschap’s character was tarnished on various social media platforms by a person named Rene Smith, who was allegedly instructed by Modack to do so. A final protection order was granted by the court on 14 March 2017 against her.

Heerschap contends that these incidents show he and his family’s lives were threatened several times before the incident of 9 July 2019, where his father was killed. At all material times, he claims, the Minister of Police, the national police commissioner, the provincial commissioner of police and the head of the Hawks were aware, through his superiors, that his father permanently lived with Heerschap and his family.

“Despite the above, it appears that the SAPS failed to take the threats against me and my family seriously, which ultimately resulted in the very tragic death of my father, who was killed in cold blood in front of the Heerschap’s house in Melkbosstrand on 9 July 2019,” he says in the court papers.

Minister accuses Heerschap of impropriety

Police Minister Bheki Cele has responded to Heerschap’s claims by filing a special plea with the court, saying the case should be thrown out and a costs order should be issued against the former Hawks officer.

Concerning the threats made to the Heerschapp family via SMS and other means, the minister claims he had no knowledge of his charges, and the plaintiff is required to prove them.

Furthermore, the minister claims that any illegal action committed by Modack against Heerschap was not the result of his investigation against him, but rather of the following:

“During his employment with SAPS, in breach of the SAPS internal employment policies, Heerschap was unlawfully conducting business as a second-hand car dealer, under the name and style of Heerschap Motors during the hours when he was required to be attending to his official duties. Heerschap[‘s] business operated in competition with Modack.”

The minister also claims that Heerschap abused and exploited his official position to foster relationships with individuals who worked at major banks to gather information in respect of repossessed motor vehicles.

Concerning the risk assessment on Heerschap, the minister adds that an assessment was undertaken in December 2018, at the behest of the Western Cape Hawks office.

“During Heerschap’s interview as part of the risk assessment, (Heerschap as well as one Warrant Office Riaan Fourie) admit that they had not received any direct threats but were only potentially exposed to threats in the course of the investigation into Modack.”

In response to Heerschap’s assertion that he alerted his superiors in the SAPS of the threat against his family and that they did nothing to safeguard himself and his family, the minister denies the charges and states:

  • Prior to the murder of Heerschap’s father, Heerschap was only exposed to potential risk during the course of his investigations into Modack between 2016 and 2019;
  • In the wake of the murder of his father, steps were taken to address the risk to Heerschap that had been materialised;
  • The minister was unable to implement any safety measures from 29 July 2019 as Heerschap failed to return to work;
  • The threat and risk assessment, which was prepared pursuant to a concern raised by Heerschap, is one of the steps towards considering and, if necessary, implementing the appropriate protection measures.

Regarding Heerschap’s discharge, the minister says that Heerschap was discharged from SAPS on the grounds of medical unfitness with effect from 31 August 2020 as a result of a psychiatric condition not arising from his performance of his official duties.

Minister Cele also contends that SAPS has no “constitutional duty” to “defend their own workers and take reasonable steps to do so”, and that in any event, it had not breached any of its duties.

As it stands, the matter is not yet on the court roll. According to Heerschap’s legal representative, advocate Daniel Botha, answering papers in the case are still pending and pretrial would only begin once all required documents have been gathered. He estimated that the case could take up to two years, should it go ahead.

In his reply to the minister’s plea, Heerschap stated Heerschap Motors was a business that his wife was involved in and which did not intrude on his official duties.

“In fact, I had permission from my commanders to assist my wife in her duties.

“Furthermore, no competition could have been entered into between Modack as I did not know Modack before the investigation began against Modack.”

Heerschap went on to further say: “The vehicles that Modack sold and the business that he ran were extreme luxury vehicles. The vehicles that my wife sold, and wherein I assisted, were cheap and second-hand vehicles. There could have been no conflict of interest.” DM

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  • Jennifer D says:

    So the police had no need to protect their employee because he was a competitor to Modack in his car business. This competition of course justifies Modack in killing Heerschap’s father – why do the police have to protect an employee who might have been competing with Modack? Senseless nonsense- how do they come up with this absolute insane argument?

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