If Krishnandi Govindsamy was traumatised this week, she hid it well. The 29-year-old mother of three was convicted in the Durban Regional Court of murdering her newborn child, a girl, in 2010.
A cashier at a butchery, she strangled her baby with a T-shirt on the night she gave birth in the bathroom of the two-bedroom flat she shares with her husband, her children, her parents and two siblings.
She shoved a cloth in the child’s mouth to muffle her cries and then throttled her with the T-shirt. It was late at night and her husband wasn’t home, and the rest of the family was asleep.
Govindsamy then put her dead baby in a plastic bag and placed it in her bedroom cupboard. She cleaned herself and went straight to bed.
This week she seemed unmoved when magistrate Fariedha Mohamed convicted her of murder. She will be sentenced in a month. She is presently out on bail.
The court heard that soon after the newborn baby cried as she took her first breath, her mother snuffed out her life.
State pathologist Christa Hattingh testified that Govindsamy would have used “great force” to throttle her baby.
But Govindsamy claims she never killed the baby
On the night in question, Govindsamy was sleeping with two of her children in her room when she experienced labour pains.
Realising she was about to give birth, Govindsamy tried to rally the support of her husband, who was not at home, by telephoning him. Her husband cut short the call, she told the court.
She then went into the bathroom and sat on the floor, near the toilet pan, while delivering the baby.
“The baby cried and then it stopped. Its neck was bleeding, so I took a cloth (T-shirt) and tied it lightly around the baby’s neck to stop the bleeding,” she claimed.
Govindsamy said she did not cut the umbilical cord and that it “came out on its own”.
Everyone in her home was asleep while she delivered the baby, whose head “might have hit” the pan during delivery, she said.
Govindsamy said she didn’t know why she concealed her dead baby. “I was shocked. I don’t know why I put it in the cupboard. I wasn’t thinking straight. It wasn’t moving when I put it into the packet, it was still,” she said.
Govindsamy remained emotionless during the two days of proceedings this week.
The repetitive mention of details about her baby’s gory death and Mohamed’s eventual judgment failed to shift her impassive appearance.
She was subjected to extensive grilling by state prosecutor Calvin Govender and Mohamed on how the facecloth ended up in the infant’s mouth, which caused the tiny tongue to “roll back”.
But neither Govindsamy nor her attorney, Anesh Maharaj, was able to tender a plausible explanation.
She also frustrated the magistrate and prosecutor with her inability to explain why she never sought the assistance of her family during her ordeal. “When I think about it, I should have,” was her reply.
In the morning, Govindsamy told her mother about the birth and that she flushed the baby down the toilet because it was deformed.
However, her story changed when her husband took her to a gynaecologist.
She then told the doctor about the baby hidden in a cupboard.
Govender suggested to Govindsamy that she gave birth to a healthy baby, but when it cried she put a cloth in its mouth to quieten it and then strangled it.
Govender referred predominantly to Hattingh’s testimony to substantiate his closing argument.
“The pathologist told of how tightly the T-shirt had been wrapped around the baby’s neck.
“She spoke about the great difficulty she had when trying to insert a finger between the T-shirt and the infant’s neck, and of the haemorrhaging caused by the tightness of the knot.
“She also revealed there (was) no scar on the baby’s neck to suggest it bled,” he told the court.
In judgment, Mohamed said she found Hattingh to be a |credible witness.
The magistrate labelled Govindsamy a poor witness: “evasive, elusive and didn’t take the court into her |confidence.
“The accused’s version is riddled with improbability, inherently false and is therefore rejected,” she said.
However, when Govindsamy was interviewed at her home a day after judgment, her demeanour had improved.
She smiled frequently, but was not prepared to speak about her personal circumstances, the death of her baby or her estranged husband, who has instituted divorce proceedings against her.
Her husband has since taken custody of the couple’s three children.
He welcomed Mohamed’s decision and called for the maximum sentence to be imposed. “I always believed she was guilty, it doesn’t surprise me,” he said.
“You never believe things like this happen. The thought of the child’s suffering still plays on my mind.
“I named the baby Tamia before cremating her. She would have received all the love in the world had she still been alive.”
- Nompumelelo Nyati, 18, from Paulpietersburg, confessed to stabbing her daughter, Aphiwe, in the chest with a bread knife this week and said her dire financial situation was the reason she had killed the child.
- South African mother, Tania Clarence, 42, is accused of killing her three disabled children in her London home in April. Clarence, whose twin sons Ben and Max, 3, and daughter Olivia, 4, were smothered, has been rated a suicide risk by the courts and has been hospitalised.
- Little children playing outside a Phoenix home in November thought a rat was rummaging for food when they heard sounds coming out of a bin packet. Their investigations led them to discover a baby. The baby’s mother, Yvonne Pillay, who allegedly had tried to conceal her pregnancy, has been charged with murder. The baby died in hospital.
- In May last year, a Philippi, Cape Town mother Pamela Somkence was sentenced to 10 years’ jail for poisoning her eight-month-old daughter by spiking the baby’s fruit juice. She claimed she did it because she saw it as a solution to her financial distress.
- Jaunita Fourie made headlines in 2011 when she and her estranged husband, Christiaan Oldewage, were charged with murdering her son, also named Christiaan. The baby died from a fractured skull and broken ribs at the couple’s Pretoria home. Fourie subsequently committed suicide.
- Marissa Rudman and her lover Nolan Schoeman were convicted of killing Rudman’s two-month-old baby, Wade, in 2009. The court found Rudman was complicit in the two weeks of torture to which Schoeman subjected the baby. His injuries included 22 rib fractures; two broken arms; a swollen brain; contusion of a lung and bruises to most parts of his body.