Pretoria - Justice had been done for little Poppie van der Merwe, 3 - her biological mother Louisa Koekemoer and stepfather Kobus Koekemoer were on Thursday each sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder.
Louisa, 47 and Kobus, 44, were each sentenced to an additional 10 years for child abuse.
Gauteng High Court, Judge Bert Bam found that there were no mitigating circumstances to warrant a lesser sentence than life imprisonment.
He said the aggravating circumstances in this case were overwhelming.
A spontaneous clapping of hands broke out in the public gallery where members of child abuse action groups sat, together with Poppie’s paternal grandparents, Carla and Johan van der Merwe.
Louisa and Kobus rushed with dry eyes from the dock to the holding cells in a bid to avoid the media. Neither of them showed any emotion during sentencing and they also did not apply for leave to appeal.
Shortly before Judge Bam started his sentencing, Louisa took the witness stand to testify in mitigation of sentence. She cried so much as she told the court of her life as an abused child at the hands of her stepfather, that the judge asked whether the court should adjourn so that she could compose herself.
Louisa said it was not necessary, but she cried so much that her evidence was barely audible. When asked by her advocate whether she had remorse regarding Poppie’s death, Louisa said: “Yes, I have remorse. I am sorry that I could not help her, but I was not able to. I did not know what to do. Please believe me.”
But Judge Bam, during sentencing, said neither her tears during the time she testified in the trial, nor her tears now, impressed him at all. “She regretted that she was arrested for the murder of her child. She has no remorse,” he said.
In starting off his sentencing, the judge remarked that it is difficult not to be emotionally affected about what had happened to Poppie, especially if one looked at the pictures of her dead body which was handed to court. He said it is not easy to look at the pictures, but as an officer of the court, he had to determine the case dispassionately.
Judge Bam earlier convicted Louisa and Kobus on the doctrine of common purpose.
The pair turned on each other and accused each other for the severe blow the child had suffered against her head, which eventually led to her death. But Judge Bam said it did not make a difference who struck the final blow, the fact remained that Poppie as well as her brother, aged five at the time, were severely abused over eight months, leading to Poppie’s death in October 2016.
He said the one did nothing to prevent the other from assaulting the children and administering the final blow to Poppie’s head.
The judge had strong words for the authorities in Orania, ranging from teachers, doctors to social workers, for not acting when they saw the bruises on the children’s bodies over the months. He said they failed to protect the children and shifted the blame.
A pathologist counted at least 25 new and old wounds on Poppie’s body when Kobus rushed her to the emergency unit of a hospital in Brits when she stopped breathing at home.
By that time she was already dead.
Poppie’s grandmother, Carla van der Merwe, after sentencing said she was happy with the sentencing, as the pair deserve life behind bars. “They did not show her any mercy, why should the court show them mercy,” she said.
The Go Purple Foundation's Annari du Plessis welcomed the sentence and said she hoped it would send a message out to others that child abuse will not be tolerated. She said she and others will keep on fighting for those who turned a blind eye to Poppy's plight, would be brought to book.