The mother and stepfather of three-year-old Poppie van der Merwe have been convicted on charges of murder and child abuse.
Judge Bert Bam ruled in the High Court in Pretoria that Louisa Koekemoer, 47, and her husband Kobus Koekemoer, 44, were equally responsible for Poppie’s death in October last year and for the severe abuse Poppie and a five-year-old boy had to endure between February 2015 and October 2016.
The tiny little blonde girl had already died of severe head injuries caused by blunt force trauma by the time she was rushed to hospital. She had old and new injuries all over her little body and her hair had been shorn off to the skin.
According to evidence, the little girl had to walk around with a fractured leg for two days before it was put in a cast and was even then not given pain medication because her mother claimed she could not afford it.
The five-year-old boy testified that Kobus Koekemoer had pushed Poppie’s head into the toilet bowl and flushed it on the morning before her death, whereafter she stopped moving and just lay there.
The parents both sat with bowed heads as Judge Bam delivered his hart-hitting judgment, and the mother was in tears while talking to her attorney afterwards.
The parents blamed each other for inflicting the fatal head injuries that resulted in Poppie’s death, but both said her head had been hit against the wall.
Judge Bam said the evidence was overwhelming that the two young children were repeatedly assaulted and abused over a long period and that Poppie had sustained the head injuries while in the care of the two accused.
He said their versions that the other person was responsible for the children’s injuries or that they had sustained the injuries accidentally or while they were at school could not be reasonably true.
He said each of the parents had a legal duty towards the children and were obliged to prevent them from coming to harm. Each knew the other was included to inflict violence on the children and did nothing to prevent it. Both were present when Poppie sustained the fatal injuries.
Both were aware that Poppie was seriously injured and had already stopped breathing before she was taken to hospital. Both of their versions claimed her head was bumped against a wall.
There was no proof that any of them did anything to protect the children or Poppie on the day of her death. Even if they did not personally inflict all of the injuries on the children, their conduct satisfied the requirements to prove their guilt on charges of murder and child abuse, he added.
Judge Bam said it was of the utmost concern that from the beginning of 2016 until September that year, despite numerous reports to the Orania social council that the children were being severely abused, very little was done about it.
He said the matter was very serious, concerned two very young children, and there was clear evidence of child abuse, but the doctor, social worker, teachers and church minister for some unknown reason failed to protect the children and certain people shifted the blame.
It may even be argued that these people were accomplices, he said.
The trial was postponed to 28 February for pre-sentencing reports.