Pretoria - The doctor who declared three-year-old Poppie van der Merwe dead when she arrived at a Brits provincial hospital on October 25, last year, said her body was covered in bruises and she even suffered bruises to her private parts.
Dr Richard Gumbu, who was on duty at the emergency unit at the time, took the stand in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in the trial of Poppie’s mother Louisa Koekemoer and her stepfather, Kobus Koekemoer.
Gumbu noted an array of injuries and bruises - from her head to her legs- but he told Judge Bert Bam that there were many more injuries which he did not note down.
He testified that he asked the parents what had happened to the child and the stepfather said he was “whipping her and she then collapsed.”
“I told them as she did not die of natural causes, I will have to call the police. They said they preferred that I did not involve the police.”
Gumbu said the stepfather did most of the talking, while the mother cried. According to him the stepfather, after hearing the police was going to be called, changed his story. He then said she was watching television when she suddenly complained she was tired. She collapsed and they tried to wake her up by pouring water over her.
The stepfather said they then rushed her to hospital. Koekemoer claimed that she sustained all the bruises in the bakkie they were travelling in as they drove at high speed.
Gumbu said the mother never disagreed to anything her husband said at the time.
He could not tell the court how old the injuries were.
According to him, the mother appeared emotional, while the stepfather “looked more relaxed.”
The defence counsel for the stepfather said his client did not know what happened to the child. He was outside working in the garden, when the mother called him after the child had collapsed.
It was stated on behalf of the father that the father told the doctor he was shaking the child after she had collapsed and that he never said he was “whipping” her.
Gumbu was adamant that the father did say “whipping.”
Paramedic Morris de Beer, testified that he took the child from the father when he got to the emergency unit. Poppie was at the time only clad in a panty.
“The child appeared dead to me. She did not move,” de Beer said.
He tried his best to resuscitate her, but it did not help.
“I saw bruise marks across her body and a hematoma on her head. I asked the father what happened and he said she sustained the bruising in the car, on the way to the hospital.”
De Beer said in his opinion she had been dead for a while before she arrived at the hospital, as he believed that rigor mortis had already set in.
He deducted this from the fact that he had difficulty in opening her mouth. De Beer said in his experience rigor mortis set in about two hours after death.
He testified that the mother stood at the door of the hospital cubicle with a little boy at her side. “I asked the boy what had happened and he only responded that “she would not eat.”
The parents this week pleaded not guilty to four charges, including murder and assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm. The alternative charges were child abuse.
One of the charges relate to a five year-old boy, who may not be identified.
It is claimed that the couple over several months abused Poppie and the boy by shouting at them, hitting and kicking them, pulling and twisting their ears, dousing them with icy water in winter and throwing them against solid objects.
The court earlier heard that the parents were monitored when they arrived in Orania in May 2014. This was after a neighbour voiced his concern that the children might be abused by their parents.
Social services in Orania monitored the situation and they apparently seeked the help of social services in the nearby Hopetown in the Northern Cape. This help never came and the parents eventually moved to Brits in September last year.
Tanya Goosen, a teacher in Orania, said the little boy, who was in her class, arrived at school with bruises on his body. He told Goosen that “his father kicked him and his sister.”
He also said that his father had a “paplepel” (a long wooden spoon) with which he hit them.
The spoon was handed in at court as an exhibit.
According to Goossen the child’s ears were black and blue and he told him that his father had dragged him around by his feet and bumped his head against the feet of a table.