Cape Town - New evidence has emerged in the case of farmworker’s son Flippie Engelbrecht which suggests that his blindness and epilepsy were not caused by a head injury as a result of being assaulted, but were caused by complications from a sinus infection which occurred 18 months after the alleged assault.
Rietvallei farm manager Wilhelm Treurnicht is accused of assaulting Engelbrecht in January 2008, when Engelbrecht was 13 years old. Engelbrecht’s parents, Flip and Katrina, worked as labourers on the farm.
Engelbrecht, 19, claims his blindness and epilepsy are a result of the assault, in which Treurnicht apparently rammed his head against a wine tank several times and then kicked him repeatedly in the head when he was on the ground. He said Treurnicht and deceased Rietvallei farm owner Johnny Burger had assaulted him because they claimed he had telephoned Burger and threatened to shoot him. He denied having phoned them.
Engelbrecht, who testified he had bled from his ears and nose after the assault, had not sought medical treatment. His mother testified that she had treated the swellings on his head and split lip with traditional herbs. Some time later he had both hands amputated as they were severely burned when he fell into a fire during an epileptic attack.
On August 21, 2009, a year-and-a-half after the alleged assault, Engelbrecht was taken to Tygerberg Hospital by ambulance.
Arnold Douglas, the Tygerberg neurosurgeon intern who was on call that day, told the Worcester Regional Court Engelbrecht had been brought to casualty in a state of depressed consciousness. There was no sign of injury or trauma to his head. He was sent for a scan which showed swelling on the left side of his brain.
“It was treated as an emergency and he had to be operated (on) as soon as possible to reduce the pressure on the brain. He was taken to theatre that night,” Douglas said.
An ear, nose and throat specialist also attended the surgery, as Engelbrecht was found to have sinusitis which led to a secondary bacterial infection. The infection had caused a subdural empyema, or abscess on the brain. Pus had collected between the membranes surrounding the brain, creating pressure. The abscess on the brain would not have taken over a year to develop, Douglas said, but merely days.
On September 10 Engelbrecht was operated on again, to further reduce pressure on the brain. The surgery was successful. A colleague, who had done the surgery, wrote in hospital notes that Engelbrecht appeared to be blind.
Asked what had caused the blindness, Douglas said: “If there is severe swelling, parts of the brain die, so it could have been from the swelling if it had affected areas connected to sight.”
Douglas said epilepsy could be the result of any brain damage. There was a “very strong likelihood” that Engelbrecht’s epilepsy was the result of the swelling from the abscess.
Treurnicht has denied he assaulted Engelbrecht. However, a Rietvallei farm worker, Jan Beukman, told the court last week he had seen Treurnicht kicking Engelbrecht in the head repeatedly as he lay on the cellar floor in January 2008. Beukman, who had gone into the cellar to fetch a broom, said he had appealed to Burger, who was watching, to stop Treurnicht.
The case has been postponed to December 17.