Poppie van der Merwe died after allegedly being abused by her mother and stepfather.
Pretoria - The biological mother and stepfather of little Louisa (Poppie) van der Merwe, 3, who died a year ago after she was allegedly severely assaulted and kicked in the stomach, on Monday said they were not to blame.

The couple pleaded not guilty, but remained mum about their defence. They are facing four charges, which include assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, alternatively child abuse.

The blue-eyed toddler was rushed to a Brits hospital on October 25 last year, but declared dead on arrival. Her stepfather, Kobus Koekemoer, 44, was arrested at the hospital and her mother, Louisa Koekemoer, 46, a while later.

On Monday, the couple sat far apart in the dock in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, and did not speak to each other. Both are in custody.

It is claimed that the couple, over several months abused Poppie and a 5-year-old 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 defence said the mother and her children fled from Westonaria to Orania after the woman’s former partner assaulted her and the children. Her new husband Kobus later joined them in Orania.

The court on Monday heard evidence from several witnesses about warning lights flashing that the children were abused after they moved to Orania. People in the town reported to the authorities that something was wrong.

Louisa Koekemoer in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Zelda Venter

A neighbour told a woman in the town, who acted as a councillor, that he suspected the children were being abused. A doctor who examined the children - Poppie on two occasions - noted an array of injuries on the child. Even her daycare teacher noted injuries.

Some of the witnesses even testified how terrified the child appeared and that she woke up at night screaming from nightmares.

However, it became clear during the evidence that although the warning bells sounded, the authorities had failed the little girl.

Social services in Orania said they monitored the family, and the doctor said that although she noted the injuries, she did not report this as she thought that the local social services were handling the matter.

Social services said they contacted social workers in nearby Hopetown to step in, but never received any feedback. The social worker in Hopetown said she received no correspondence regarding the children.

Although Poppie's teacher shed a tear while testifying, she too did not report the injuries as she thought the matter was being handled by social services. A nurse who saw the children also did not act as she thought the matter was being handled elsewhere.

Judge Bert Bam questioned the witnesses as to why they did had not acted when they had clearly suspected the children were being abused.

The judge said there was a duty on them to notify the police, yet they all had done nothing.

Kobus Koekemoer and his wife Louisa are facing a charge of murder. It is claimed they kicked and beat 3-year-old Poppie van der Merwe to death. Picture: Zelda Venter

It emerged that up until Poppie’s body, riddled with injuries from head to toe, arrived at the hospital in Brits, the police were never informed of anything.

Commenting about the witnesses lack of action, the judge said: “You people’s conduct is just weird.”

Orania’s local doctor at the time, Margaret Bekker, said that when she saw Poppie, she had bruises on her body and a severe blue bruise on her forehead. The mother had explained that the child suffered this when she bumped her head against the car.

She also explained the bruises away by saying the two children injured each other.

Poppie at one stage suffered a broken leg - and this time the mother said she had fallen down stairs.

The doctor admitted that she simply noted these injuries on the child’s hospital file.

Counsellor Heidi Smith said that when the family arrived in Orania they were poor and the community assisted them. Following complaints that the children were subjected to abuse, she took them under her wing and monitored the situation. She said the children stayed with her for a week when the parents were away and Poppie woke up at night screaming because of nightmares.

The teacher, Esna Schumann, described Poppie as a loveable child who used to put her arms around her little friends. She said that when the child arrived at school with a huge bump on her forehead, Poppie told her “they had hurt me”. She took a picture of the injury but she too did not take the matter further.

The family suddenly left Orania one day, without telling anyone. Poppie died a few days later.

(Proceeding)

Pretoria News