Mom's tears as R1.2m maintenance battle against deadbeat dad delayed again

01 March 2020 - 00:00
Andrei Potgieter owes his wife R1.2m in maintenance.
Image: Supplied Andrei Potgieter owes his wife R1.2m in maintenance.

In 2018 wealthy Durban business person Andrei Potgieter was sentenced to an effective  4½ years in prison for failing to pay his former wife R1.2m in maintenance. But he has served just two months of the sentence, and is unlikely to return to  jail anytime soon.

Lawyers for Potgieter told the high court in Johannesburg on Thursday, where he is appealing the jail sentence, that the hearing  would have to be put on hold  because he  has now decided to  appeal  the conviction itself to  the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

The latest delay was too much for his former  wife, Louise Nell, who burst into tears in the courtroom.

She has been fighting for maintenance for her youngest son, Keegan, who is now 24, since the couple divorced eight years ago.

“I was broken, I was shattered. He took everything from me, from my child,” she said. “I’m trying to recover and he’s still stopping us.”

Nell claimed in her earlier court papers that Potgieter had gone out of his way to financially and psychologically abuse her and their two sons, and that at one stage they had gone for seven months without electricity and running water in the family home in Durban.

Potgieter had taken over the family business — more than a dozen RJ restaurant franchises in KwaZulu-Natal — after the divorce, leaving Nell moving from city to city to try to keep a roof over her and her children’s heads.

The case is being heard in Johannesburg because  Nell now lives in the city.

Nell and Keegan have agreed to be named.

In the initial maintenance case in  the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court, Potgieter claimed poverty. He sold all of the businesses to his  girlfriend, Charlene de Bruyn, which the court has said was part of a plot to avoid paying maintenance.

In 2018 magistrate Abdul Khan granted the maintenance order and issued an attachment order to seize any property belonging to Potgieter and the business to make up the sum.

In his ruling he noted that  Keegan had been unable to finish high school because of his mother’s financial situation while his brother, who had chosen to live with Potgieter, was “living a comfortable life and travelling around the world with his new family”.

“The scheme devised by you with the assistance of Charlene de Bruyn ensured that the complainant did not receive a cent of maintenance for herself and Keegan, who elected to live with his mother. You were quite happy that [De Bruyn] spent the money to the detriment of the victims here,” said Khan.

“While you lived in the lap of luxury, she and your son had to move from place to place, town to town and house to house to find a place to sleep and find something to eat.”

Potgieter served about two months in prison before launching his appeal and securing bail pending the outcome.

He has also obtained an interdict against the attachment order, meaning Nell is still awaiting the money that would have allowed her to support her family.

Nell and Keegan are now staying with a relative in Johannesburg as they await the outcome of the appeal proceedings.

I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone, not even my worst enemy
Keegan Nell

While their situation has improved, with a stable place to live, Keegan says he  is still searching for permanent work.

“I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” he said.

“Our family was torn apart. Now I’m trying to move on with my life but it’s very difficult.”

Nell said she and Potgieter had built up their restaurant business together and had enjoyed a life of luxury until the divorce.

“Watching one of your children suffer, it can destroy a parent. Now Andrei is living with his new family and ours is destroyed,” she said.

In court this week prosecutor Steve Rubin said it was clear Potgieter was trying to delay   proceedings. But his request that judge Leonie Windell revoke Potgieter’s bail while he awaits a decision from the  SCA on his conviction was denied.

Windell  ordered that Potgieter’s legal team complete their petition to the SCA in the next two weeks and that once a ruling had been  made,  the court would hear both sides’ arguments.

When asked for comment on the allegations and ruling against Potgieter, his legal representative, Schalk van der Sandt,  said he was under strict instructions not to speak with the media. He said it would also be “inappropriate” for Potgieter to comment at this stage in the proceedings.