‘I could not pro­tect her’

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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

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