Gavin Foster
Gavin Foster

Tim Noakes vs Dr Ferdinantus Booyens – the curious machinations of the Health Professions Council of South Africa

It’s astonishing how much effort the Health Professions Council of SA has put into pursuing Tim Noakes, even to the extent of announcing a victory before judgment is handed down.

They’re not usually that dedicated though. Take a look at the bizarre case of Dr Ferdinantus Booyens, who dominated the front page of Durban’s newspapers in 1995. He was convicted and jailed for assault, sodomising two young boys, sending patients to a back-street abortionist, and fraud. He fled to Canada under an assumed identity with false papers during the trial, but was struck off the roll and eventually arrested and returned to face the music in a criminal court. When he came out of jail he at least twice stole the identities and documentation of practising doctors, and was finally caught out and criminally convicted again in 2002. No evidence was offered about his torrid past and he escaped with a suspended sentence and a fine.

Then, just three years later, the HPCSA saw fit to reinstate him as a medical doctor. I nagged them for months for the records of the meetings that led to this bizarre decision, and was told that they were “looking” for them. They were totally unaware of his chequered past, though, and thought that he’d been struck off (by them!) in 1994 for carrying out abortions, which are now legal. Of course, sending people to a back-street abortionist is much more dangerous than a qualified doctor doing them under the old laws, but they didn’t know about that either. Booyens now works for the state as a doctor in Bloemfontein. In 2013 he was in paediatrics…

Here’s a lengthy text version of the story I did for Noseweek in April 2013. If you’re a subscriber you can click on the link.

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) took the old adage that justice should be tempered with mercy to heart when they reinstated Dr Ferdinantus Booyens as a general practitioner in July 2008. It’s a pity, though, that nobody delved into his past behaviour or found out exactly what he’d got up to during his years in the wilderness.

Booyens didn’t attend his original ’94 South African Medical and Dental Council disciplinary hearing because he was practising medicine in Canada at the time, under a bogus Certificate of Good Standing supposedly issued by the then South African Medical and Dental Council, that later evolved into the HPCSA. Interpol got involved after the drug-dealing doctor jumped bail and fled South Africa to escape trial for a long list of very serious criminal offences, and while the good doctor was awaiting deportation to South Africa to face the music the disciplinary hearing went on in absentia. This was convenient because after the drug-dealing doctor was struck off for disgraceful conduct on October 11 1994 the SAMDC could disown him and thus play as little part as possible in the criminal trial proceedings.

Booyens was represented by his lawyers at the SAMDC hearing. They intimated that they were going to fight tooth and nail to defend him, but did a sudden u-turn when the SA Police investigating officer arrived with a bulging briefcase relating to further pending criminal charges. They then changed their plea and on his behalf admitted guilt on all charges as below:

  • Inaccurate and fraudulent accounts rendered
  • Performance of procedures for which inadequately qualified
  • Falsified certificate of status
  • Found guilty of fraud and interfering with a state witness
  • Possession of and dealing in drugs and/or forbidden substances.

Booyens’ criminal trial in 1995 dominated the headlines in Durban’s newspapers for months. Readers learnt about a doctor who spent his free time hanging out with the low-life drug addicts whose habits he fed. They heard how he performed illegal abortions and, much worse, sent two young girls to a Port Shepstone back-street abortionist called Jimmy Watts. Both of the girls Booyens had admitted sending to Watts survived, but the abortionist was later criminally charged after the death of another patient.

Those who followed the criminal case with keen interest also read how Booyens once sent his thugs out to bring in one Adrian Anquetil, an ex-friend who had given evidence against him in an earlier fraud trial involving a fraudulent car insurance claim. In Booyens’ flat his friends then beat him and kicked him severely before trying to break his fingers to “teach him a lesson”. Booyens then injected the man with Dormicum, a powerful sedative often used in surgery, that has a side effect of causing retrograde amnesia, which also makes it very useful as an agent for date rape. When Anquetil regained consciousness in a dockyard alley the next morning he believed he’d been mugged, and only heard the truth when Booyens’ crew spilled the beans in the run-up to the criminal trial.

In the end Booyens pleaded guilty and was convicted on six counts – one of performing an abortion, two of procuring abortions through Jimmy Watts, one count of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, relating to the Anquetil incident, and two of sodomy with boys aged 16 and 17. At the time the age of consent for homosexual acts was 19, so Booyens was lucky to escape more serious charges. As it happened, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, and released to finish his term under house arrest after serving just nine months in Westville.

Fast forward to March 2002, when Booyens again appeared in court to face criminal charges. Guilty bogus doctor gets R10 000 fine for fraud blared the headlines in the East London Daily Dispatch, in a story that revealed how Ferdinantus Booyens was charged with fraud, forgery, unlawfully practising medicine as a doctor and unlawfully treating a patient in contravention of the Health Professionals Act. Booyens had taken up a position in Umtata as a locum at Dr Toon Theron’s practice under the assumed identity of a Durban doctor, Allan Busch. Booyens once again used bogus papers, including copies of the real doctor’s degrees from Wits University’s Medical School. Dr Theron was unimpressed by the newcomer’s medical skills, so he tracked down the real Dr Busch and discovered he had hired an impostor.

Booyens was sentenced to four years imprisonment or a R10 000 fine, of which R2 000 was suspended. In mitigation his lawyer, Arnold Immerman, stressed that the court should take into account that Booyens was not a “bogus” doctor because he’d qualified at Stellenbosch in 1985. No mention of his previous criminal history was made during the trial and the investigating officer, Tollie le Roux, produced a letter from the HPCSA stating simply that Booyens had been struck off for performing illegal abortions in Durban. With abortion having been legalised after 1995 that was clearly no longer a major issue. Procuring abortions is of course another matter entirely, but that point, along with the various other criminal convictions, was never raised.

A week after Booyens’s Umtata conviction the Dispatch ran another story on him. It claimed that Booyens, working under another assumed identity, was linked to the disappearance of pethedine from an Empangeni medical practice a year earlier. Dr Hannes Naude told the newspaper that he’d been approached by narcotics bureau detectives enquiring about Booyens, who’d worked for him twice as a locum, in October 2000 and February 2001. Dr Naude, when I contacted him recently, said he’d by then already fired his locum, who was working under the assumed identity of a Dr Johan Botha, after his pethedine stock started disappearing at an alarming rate. “I suspected him, and one of my receptionists sneaked out to check his car boot,” Dr Naude told me. “When she came back she told me that it was full of pethedine and other Schedule 7 opiates. I told him to go away and get himself sorted out, and only later found out that his name was actually Booyens and he’d been bust.”

Interestingly, the convicted man’s brother, Thys Booyens of Queenstown, was quoted in the Daily Dispatch as saying that he knew his brother was guilty, and that he also faced charges for working as a doctor with a stolen identity in Middelburg. “Why he did what he did I do not know,” he told the newspaper. “He was waiting to be reinstated by the Health Professionals Council after he had been scrapped from its roll after performing illegal abortions.” Thys Booyens went on to say that his brother had other wealthy siblings who had “bailed him out” of the Middelburg pickle.

There’s no readily available evidence of a trial or a conviction in this case.

Booyens may be a menace to society, but he’s not the real villain of this piece. That honour goes to the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

When we discovered in 2010 that Booyens had in May 2008 been reinstated as a doctor, we contacted the HPCSA to ask if this was true, and if so, was the panel who decides these things fully aware of his track record when it approved his readmission? There followed weeks of telephone calls and e-mails, with very little in the way of a straight answer. Their senior manager Public Relations and Service Delivery, Bertha Peters-Scheepers, initially confirmed that Booyens had indeed been reinstated, but said that he was allowed to register for non-clinical purposes only, and could thus not deal with patients. Despite repeated requests, she could not tell us what evidence the council had taken into account when reinstating him. We forwarded the HPCSA various links to online news stories and provided them with the telephone number of Captain Kevin Gierke, who had been the case investigator in Durban at the original trial, but the response was still silence. Captain Gierke was never subsequently contacted by the HPCSA.

We also asked if the HPCSA was not concerned about how easily Booyens had acquired a genuine Certificate of Good Standing prior to his flight to Canada, and whether they had ever investigated the source of all the other seemingly genuine documentation he’d used to set up shop under his various false names. There was no response to that, but we did receive an email as follows from Bheki Mbhele, general manager Professional Boards at the HPCSA: “There is a detailed application which was submitted to the Board in 2005 for restoration, in which the doctor makes a case for the committee to consider his application positively. There is no evidence in the practitioner’s file that new information (complaints, reports etc) came to the council after 2002 about the doctor which warranted a new investigation.”

Dr Ferdinantus Booyens’ profile on LinkedIn reflects him as a Principal Medical Officer with the Department of Health in Bloemfontein, a post he held in 2010. Medpages.co.za reflects him as a General Practitioner/Medical Officer in the paediatric section at Kimberley Provincial Hospital today.

I then arranged for two women to call the paediatrics department to ask about making appointments for their children to be seen by Dr Booyens. In the first instance the woman at reception told the enquirer: “Sure – just bring him in.” The second caller, who rang to make an appointment with a doctor in the paediatric section a few days later was asked which doctor she wished to see her child. She gave Booyens’ name and was put straight through. When Booyens started questioning her about her child’s ailment she hung up.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

  • Trump’s global gag rule puts safe abortion in jeopardy
  • The problem with the ACDP’s anti-abortion Facebook post
  • Astronaut slams ‘Banting in space’
  • A deep dip in everyday racism/sexism/classism/etc