Pretoria - “I simply could not help Poppie as I feared that he would beat her even more if I interfered.”
This was the excuse Poppie van der Merwe’s biological mother, Louisa Koekemoer, offered for not assisting the little girl when she was severely assaulted by her stepfather.
Koekemoer cried bitterly as she told the Gauteng High court on Wednesday how her husband on numerous occasions prior to the three-year-old’s death slammed her head against the kitchen cupboard and kicked in the stomach with considerable force.
The 47-year-old mother said she was terrified of Kobus Koekemoer, whom she married less than a year before Poppie’s death on October 25 last year.
She took the stand in defence of the murder and child abuse charges she and Kobus are facing. Both have pleaded not guilty.
According to her, her new husband started beating her children within a month or two after their wedding. “If they did something wrong in his eyes, he would beat them...He even kicked them on several occasions in their stomachs.”
She described how he once flung Poppie against the iron frame of the sofa and how he on other occasions put her head in the toilet and then flushed.
Louisa testified that the beatings the children were subjected to intensified when they moved from Orania to Brits a few weeks before Poppie’s death. While he on occasions slammed Poppie’s head against the kitchen cupboard in Orania, this increased in Brits. “She usually cried and I consoled her so that she could stop and not make him angrier.”
“The night before her death he picked her up from where she was eating at a table and flung her head with might against the kitchen cupboard. This was because she ate too slow for his liking. She cried and I consoled her. I asked if she was okay but she did not answer.”
Louisa said Poppie was disorientated the next morning and unsteady on her legs. She fell against a wall and hardly spoke. She would not eat and Kobus shouted at her.
He left for the shops and the children were watching television. Louisa said something was clearly wrong with Poppie at that stage and she hardly opened her eyes. She managed to tell her mother that she did not feel well.
When Kobus returned several hours later, she was still lying on the carpet in front of the TV. “He asked me why she was still there and I told him she was not feeling well. He then kicked her in the stomach.”
Kobus tried to revive the child with water in the bath, but Poppie was already dead by then.
“She never breathed again,” Louisa said.
Counsel for Kobus Koekemoer accused Louisa of lying, saying she was the one who had severely assaulted Poppie for months on end until she eventually died. Judge Bert Bam also questioned why she did nothing when she saw that Poppie was seriously injured on the morning before her death.
Louisa said Kobus refused to take her to hospital and just said “she is playing dead again.” She said the child often “played dead” after being assaulted. Asked by the judge whether she was not perhaps unconscious during these times, the mother said perhaps, but she never checked.
She was grilled as to why, if she was so terrified of her husband and he was beating the children all the time, she did not leave him.
Louisa either answered that her hands were tied as she feared the repercussions or she said she simply did not know. But the state accused her of being a liar, stating instead that both she and her husband assaulted the child until she eventually died.
The case was postponed to December 5.