President Jacob Zuma addresses the assembled media after unveiling a plaque in memory of Courtney Pieters. Picture: ANA
Cape Town – President Zuma has lambasted the Elsies River police for their handling of the Courtney Pieters case when it was reported that the three-year-old was missing.

Her body was discovered in a shallow grave at the weekend, 1km from where she was last seen nine days before.

Zuma visited the grieving family yesterday and unveiled a plaque in Courtney’s memory.

Mortimer Saunders, 40, who had been renting a room inside the family home on Pluto Street, was arrested and this week charged with two counts of rape and murder.

“I’ve been told the behaviour of the police was not good,” Zuma said. “When the police were first asked to help, they almost treated the mother as the perpetrator, instead of helping in the search. I will be discussing this with the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, because I think it’s important for me to talk about their behaviour here."

Zuma said that had the police assisted at the start, Courtney’s body might have been discovered sooner.

“Indeed, the first placed they would’ve searched, had they come, would’ve been the house. They would’ve seen the blood. Instead, they acted as if this was not a serious matter.”

Zuma condemned the behaviour of the suspect, Saunders, saying: “To think that a man who lived in the same house, who stays with the family, wakes up and faces the family and all the while pretending to know nothing it is something totally abnormal.

Video: Laura Skippers/ANA

“I hope the country will realise that on the issue of crime, we are facing a crisis. There is negativity in this country, there is something that has gone very wrong.

“I have been told, that just here in the Western Cape, 19 children have been killed since the beginning of the year. It is unacceptable.

“I don’t know whether we need to change the laws or introduce harsher punishments,” Zuma said, “but it is something that we need to discuss.

“It’s a crisis.”

The president also pledged to assist Courtney’s parents, Aaron and Juanita Pieters.

“I have a foundation. I will send the chairperson to meet with the family next week and see if we can find a house for them, as consolation for losing a child so young, and in such a brutal manner.”

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Cape Argus