Orania community in the dock after girl’s murder
Authorities looked away as Poppie, 3, beaten by parents
WHILE toddler Poppie van der Merwe’s mother and stepfather have blood on their hands, a key aspect that emerged at their murder trial was that many who could have did not do enough to save the little girl.
Judge Bert Bam described Poppie’s injuries as “absolutely shocking” and found Louisa and Kobus Koekemoer equally guilty, regardless of who inflicted the final blow.
Their trial in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, revealed that if authorities had done their duty, Poppie might not have died a horrible death at the tender age of three.
Apart from her parents, all of those who were supposed to protect and nurture her, failed the little girl terribly, prompting Bam to describe them as “accomplices” to her murder.
He also expressed alarm that very little was done by the authorities in Orania, where the family lived, to protect both Poppie and her brother, then aged five, who also suffered abuse.
Bam said the doctor, the dominee, teachers, a nurse and social workers knew something was wrong but did nothing to stop it. They may have made a note of the visible injuries to the children and even reported their findings but the social worker and counsellor in the small whites-only town “kept an eye” on the family, but never reported anything to the police.
Bam noted in his judgement that adults had a legal obligation to protect children. This was especially so in a case in which a doctor suspected a child had been abused. But it was only on October 25 last year, when a doctor in Brits saw that Poppie was dead, that the police were involved and the parents arrested.
Bam said Poppie had so many injuries that he could not record them all.
“The people in Orania did very little about complaints that the children were abused for months … It is shocking that they would cover up the abuse of children,” Bam remarked during legal argument before judgement this week.
The prosecution said it seemed as if the community of Orania wanted to avoid interfering or calling the police, at all costs, as it wanted to portray a picture that all was well in the Afrikaner town.
Bam has been outraged since the start of the trial that nobody tried to get help for Poppie or her brother. He has not been named and is being cared for in a place of safety.
As the teachers, doctor, social worker and nurse took the stand, the judge said that he did not know what was wrong with them, as they did not listen to the children nor report what they observed.
A doctor who twice examined Poppie noted many injuries, including a huge bruise on her forehead that her mother claimed had been caused by bumping her head on their bakkie. On another occasion, the girl’s leg was broken. Her mother said she tripped over a puppy or fell down stairs. The doctor noted the injuries in a file, but did nothing more.
Poppie told a teacher that her mother had hit her. The teacher took a picture, but she too did nothing further.
Even a nurse in town, who noticed a change in Poppie’s demeanour – she had become quiet and scared – did not think anything should be done. Poppie’s brother also presented with a host of injuries, but again, these were simply noted. He went to school with blood on his ears and said his father had dragged him by his ears.
The witnesses claimed they had reported the children’s injuries to a woman who acted as Orania’s social worker. She in turn said she tried to alert social services in Britstown, but nobody came to help. However, the social services said they were not told.
Annari du Plessis of the Go Purple Foundation, who attended proceedings, said there should have been many people standing in the dock with the parents.
“Why did no one call the police? Why did no one remove these children before Poppie was killed … She was in danger and no one helped her.”
Du Plessis said there were other Poppies in the community, crying out for help. “Are we going to fail them too – or are we willing to get involved and do what we can to protect them?”
Poppie’s mother, Louisa Koekemoer, and her stepfather, Kobus, inset, have been found guilty of the little girl’s murder, as well as child abuse relating to Poppie and her young brother.
Poppie van der Merwe