‘I could not protect her’
POPPIE van der Merwe’s biological mother, Louisa Koekemoer, cried bitterly as she told the court how her husband, on numerous occasions, slammed the three-year-old’s head against the kitchen cupboard and with force kicked her several times in the stomach.
The 47-year-old woman said she was terrified of Kobus Koekemoer, whom she married less than a year before Poppie’s death on October 25, last year.
“I could not protect her. I was afraid if I said or did anything, he would hurt her even more or that he would kill her.”
She took the stand in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria yesterday in defence of the murder and child abuse charge she and Kobus are facing. Both pleaded not guilty.
While Louisa’s defence was that her hands were tied to assist Poppie and her brother, who may not be identified, Kobus blamed everyone but himself.
He pointed fingers at Louisa and said she was the one who flung Poppie against a wall on the morning of her death.
He did acknowledge that he did give the children hidings, as “they simply would not listen”.
In concluding his evidence yesterday morning, Kobus admitted that he sometimes gave the children “serious hidings”.
Asked what this meant, he explained: “I hit them with the wooden spoon until they cried. I then went further and hit them until they were quiet. Until they understood what they had done wrong and said they were sorry.”
Prosecutor Salome Scheepers told Kobus: “She was a small child. You knew if you went on like that you could have killed her. You in fact did want to kill her.”
Kobus denied this and said: “This is how it went in our house. If the children did not listen, they received a hiding.”
Louisa meanwhile described her husband as being jealous, intolerant, aggressive and unpredictable. She said she and the children lived in fear of provoking him and they always did everything to appease him.
“I was terrified of him because you never knew where you stood with him . . . he threatened that if I sought help, he would kill my family.”
According to her the beatings of the children started 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, flushed her head in the toilet. Louisa, at one stage, cried so bitterly that the court had to adjourn for her to compose herself.
Her husband meanwhile sat in the dock listening to her evidence, mostly with closed eyes. He, on occasions, looked directly at her when she made damning accusations against him.
Louisa testified that the beatings of the children became worse when they moved from Orania to Brits, a few weeks before Poppie’s death.
While he on occasions slammed her 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.” Asked why she did nothing to assist the children, Louisa said he told her not to interfere, as he had to teach them discipline.
“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 told her that she lied, as 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 said “she played 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.
“You did nothing even when your two-year-old daughter was kicked in the stomach,” Judge Bam asked.
Louisa simply shook her head. The state told her she was a liar, as both she and Kobus assaulted Poppie until she eventually died.
A Kimberley social worker, Este Botha, is due to be called to the stand by counsel acting for Kobus.
The case was meanwhile postponed to December 5 so that the defence can consult with her.
STAND: Poppie van der Merwe’s biological mother, Louisa Koekemoer. Picture: Zelda Venter