Pretoria - As Baby L started to show a slight improvement in ICU at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, with flickering of her eyes, her mother and her boyfriend appeared in court, facing charges of attempting to murder the two-year-old.
The 20-year-old mother who, to protect the child’s identity, may not be named, sat sobbing uncontrollably, with her head on her knees, on the staircase leading to the holding cells of the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court before she appeared on Tuesday morning.
Minutes later, the fragile young woman emerged in the dock, followed by her 36-year-old boyfriend, who looked impassive.
The couple have been charged with attempted murder following a doctor’s examination of the critical injuries that put the toddler in hospital last Monday. Baby L is fighting for her life while her biological father and grandmother hold vigil at her bedside.
Doctors notified the police of the extensive injuries to Baby L, saying the child had been admitted before with other serious injuries.
News of the child’s injuries, including a punctured pancreas and bleeding on the brain, spread like wildfire on social media sites, sparking outrage.
Following the calls from community policing forum leaders and other organisations, a small crowd gathered at the court on Tuesday to pledge their support for Baby L and to let the government know that child abuse would not be tolerated in society.
A handful of people, including children dressed in pink shirts, held placards reading “Stop child abuse now”. One visibly distraught woman said if she had her way, the accused and her boyfriend would be beaten. She said she spoke on behalf of everyone there who wanted to send a clear message to the government: “Enough is enough with child abuse, rape and murder.”
Susan Horan, who was also in court, said: “We have come here today and we have just one strong message for Mr Zuma: ‘Bring back the death penalty.’ It’s because the government allows people to get away with stuff like this, that it keeps on happening. That man who hurt this child deserves to die. If the government is not going to deal with him the proper way, give him back to us and we will teach him a lesson.”
As proceedings got under way, relatives of Baby L’s mother sat wiping away tears in the public gallery.
The mother sobbed throughout the appearance, but her co-accused showed no emotion.
As she leaned on the bench in the dock, weeping, some of the hardened, angry faces in the gallery softened a little.
Magistrate Pierre Wessels, before adjourning court, asked the gallery to remain calm.
“I know there is a lot of emotion today regarding this matter, but please let’s show the accused respect and not throw insults at them as they head back to the cells,” he said.
As the couple made their back back to the holding cells, the mother bumped into the wall, but was held up by her partner.
Wessels postponed the matter to January 14. The couple remain in custody.
Baby L’s grandmother said she was too distraught to speak to the media after hearing her daughter’s heart-rending sobs.
Meanwhile, Baby L is starting to show some improvement much to her father’s and doctors’ delight.
“We were all so happy when she lifted her arm and started to open her eyes. It seems like we are getting somewhere but it is still early days. We pray for the best,” he said.