Pretoria - A Pretoria High Court judge had to lay down the law on Friday – but also act as guardian in determining whether a father had exceeded the boundaries of punishment of his daughter by depriving her of her beloved horse.
On Friday, Judge Jody Kollapen was called to make a ruling in a case involving the girl (aged 12), her divorced parents, and her horse called Wakidi.
Her father – referred to in court as a “rich businessman” from Mooikloof – removed the horse from its stables in the upmarket estate east of Pretoria to punish his daughter as he was not happy with an e-mail she had sent him.
The 12-year-old was at school when she sent the e-mail and was, according to her mother, devastated and became hysterical when she visited the stables to find her horse was not there. The stablehand told her that her father had removed the horse that morning.
Apart from having formed a special bond with the horse her father bought her as a gift four years ago, the child and the horse were also due to take part in a show-jumping competition tomorrow (Sunday), Judge Kollapen heard.
The mother turned to the court with an “extremely urgent” application to have the horse returned. After the father’s counsel said they agreed to return Wakidi, provided his daughter tried to resolve her differences with him, Judge Kollapen ruled that the father had to return the horse to the stables by 9am today.
He also said the parents, with their child and a child expert, should meet to try and rebuild their relationships.
Although the judge said the father had, in the opinion of the court, acted harshly in his punishment by removing the horse to a location unknown to the child or her mother, he could not make a finding that the father had acted in bad faith.
The application, which the respondents said should never have ended up in the court, came about after the mother had gone to collect a bicycle, a snackwich maker and some Rooibos tea from her former husband’s home. She believed these items belonged to her but he allegedly threatened to have her locked up for theft if she did not return them.
She returned the items, but her daughter in an SMS to her father, told him he had acted in a childish manner. The father told her to apologise, or “she would suffer the consequences”. He subsequently relocated the horse without informing her.
It emerged on Friday that the child, in a heart-rending SMS, asked her father to tell her where her horse was and also apologised.
In defending himself in court, the father said he had a right to punish his daughter in a manner he deemed fit. His counsel said an apology via SMS was not sufficient.
Counsel for the mother said as upper guardian of children, the judge could intervene. The judge was told that taking her horse was not the same as taking her cellphone or other privileges away, as one would normally consider in punishing a child. While the father paid for the horse and its stabling, the animal and the child had a strong bond, the court was told.
Judge Kollapen said the punishment had to fit the crime.
In this case, it had seemed disproportionate, he said.