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Pretoria - A beautiful young Pretoria model’s life was shattered when she was in a car accident five months before her dream wedding, leaving her with severe brain damage and spinal injuries.
Claudine Labuschagne was 24 years old when she and her fiancé, Johan van der Merwe, in June 2009 returned from seeing their wedding planner in Hartswater in the Northern Cape.
The accident happened shortly after midnight on the Kimberley/Griquatown road. Van der Merwe swerved out for something in the road and lost control of the vehicle.
He died in the accident and Labuschagne was taken to a hospital in Kimberley, where she was in a coma for three months.
The Pretoria High Court on Tuesday ordered that the Road Accident Fund (RAF) had to pay R8 million into a trust. This money will be used to take care of the now 29-year-old’s needs for the rest of her life.
Labuschagne at first lived in a home for the disabled, but she moved back with her parents in their Montana home. Her mother Alta and father Henco Labuschagne, who is a director at the Department of Foreign Affairs, take care of her daily needs.
According to court papers, she is entirely dependent on the round-the-clock help.
Her parents were living in Vienna at the time of her accident and had to incur a lot of medical and other related costs as it took months before she could be discharged from hospital.
Labuschagne had suffered a fractured spine, multiple rib fractures, a chest injury and a severe brain injury in the accident.
She was at the time employed in her fiancé’s family business as a trainee draughtsperson. She also did modelling work and appeared in about two episodes of the Afrikaans soapie 7de Laan.
Her accident at the time drew a lot of attention and people from all over the country prayed for her.
Her mother kept a diary for her daughter, noting everything from the time she was admitted to the hospital in a coma, up until a year later when Labuschagne could for the first time dry herself after a bath and get dressed.
“I wrote it to her, because in my ignorance, I thought she would fully recover. I wanted to tell her everything she had had to endure. I never thought it would end like this,” her mother on Tuesday told the Pretoria News.
She said her daughter was a beautiful, cheerful young woman before the accident, who had a lot of friends. “She was simply a lovely person. Now she is a shattered one. She walks lopsided and falls many times a day - she no longer has balance.
“She is a handicapped person. She is no longer the old Claudine.”
Her mother said her daughter phoned her on the night of the accident, as they left the wedding planner. “She told me everything was in place, her father can now pay the last bills. They were about 5km outside Kimberley. While she was talking to me, I heard her gasp and I knew they were in an accident. I just said ‘God, please let my child live’.”
The other driver who apparently caused the accident later phoned the police to alert them about the accident. But he fled the scene. “He will have to live with his conscience,” Labuschagne’s mother said.
Van der Merwe was buried - while her daughter was still in a coma - on his family’s farm in Hartswater, where the wedding was to take place. The service was held at the same spot, while the chairs were packed out and decorated in the colours of the wedding.
“He was buried on a koppie overlooking the wedding spot.”
Mrs Labuschagne said her biggest wish, now that the court case has been concluded, is for her daughter to find some quality in life.
“I dearly want to place her in an institution where she can find friends and have a meaningful life. She is still intelligent and can have a normal conversation.
“But she is extremely lonely. All her friends have forsaken her. We are there for her, but we can only do so much.”