Ora­nia com­mu­nity in the dock af­ter girl’s mur­der

Au­thor­i­ties looked away as Pop­pie, 3, beaten by par­ents

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - ZELDA VENTER

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?”

PIC­TURE: THOBILE MATHONSI/ANA

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

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