Warning to sensitive readers: graphic text follows.
Cape Town - Sixteen-month-old Asheeqah Scott had devastating rib fractures, neck contusions similar to those seen when a person is hanged, and burn wounds all over her body in what has been described as one of the worst child neglect cases to face the Western Cape High Court in two years.
On Wednesday, pathologist Lara Peddle said Asheeqah’s was the worst child neglect case of about 700 post-mortems she has completed over the past two years.
Peddle said she now uses Asheeqah’s case to illustrate to her colleagues how severe child neglect can get.
Asheeqah, who was declared dead at Red Cross Hospital on September 4 last year, was malnourished and her growth was stunted, Peddle said.
In addition, her nail bed was infected; she had multiple cigarette burn wounds on her body; and tissue that connected her gum to her lip was torn, indicating trauma to her face.
“In terms of injuries, I’ve seen worse. But this is the worst case of child neglect I’ve seen,” said Peddle.
Asheeqah’s liver was battered in a way a grown alcoholic adult’s would have been, and her lungs were damaged from chronic bronchitis.
But ultimately it was blunt-force trauma to the head that caused her death.
Her mother’s ex-boyfriend, Pieter van Tonder, has pleaded guilty to her murder.
In September last year, Van Tonder was dating Asheeqah’s mother, Shakiera, when she asked him to look after her daughter.
In his plea, Van Tonder said he was smoking mandrax when he first hit Asheeqah in the face with an open hand.
“She fell flat on the bed. I picked her up and again assaulted her on her head and body. I did this about three times, and after the last assault she was not moving,” he told Judge Mushtak Parker.
Van Tonder and his friend Ricardo Marco then went to a shebeen in Delft, adding that the child’s mother was also intoxicated at that time.
“I followed him (Marco) with the deceased in my hands. As I was climbing into my vehicle I threw the deceased’s limp body onto the back seat.
"As we drove off, I picked her up, then placed and held her limp body over the headrest of the front seat,” Van Tonder told Judge Parker.
“I would speed up then brake hard to cause her to fall on the rear seat and floor. I did so repeatedly.”
Meanwhile, Marco was on Wednesday also interrogated by Judge Parker about his complicity in standing by as a child was abused.
“I am asking you, with tears in my eyes, why did you just sit like a doll and watch her being murdered?” Judge Parker asked.
Marco testified on Wednesday as a State witness in aggravation of sentence. He told the court he saw every blow Van Tonder dealt Asheeqah, but admitted to doing nothing.
“He (Van Tonder) is a person that gets very angry. He klapped the person next door once, I thought he’d do the same with me,” Marco said.
But that wasn’t enough for Judge Parker, who said it didn’t matter what would’ve happened to him. The child’s well-being should have been prioritised, he said.
“Even though you were gerook, he drove and you were able to buy beers,” Judge Parker said.
Marco said he now felt bad and had sleepless nights thinking about the incident.
“What do you feel bad about? That you stood there like a fool and did nothing?” Judge Parker asked him, to which Marco did not reply but requested counselling.
"Asked by State prosecutor Ilze Herbst how long he thought Van Tonder should be imprisoned for, Marco said “two life sentences”.
The case has been postponed to next month to allow for Asheeqah’s family, who sobbed in court as they heard the ghastly details of her injuries, to prepare an impact report.
Speaking outside court, Shakiera said she believed she could trust Van Tonder with her baby, and had left her with him before.
“He will get his day. I think about her every day. I can’t eat or sleep properly,” she said.