'Poppie is playing dead again' – Slain toddler's mother testifies about her daughter's tragic last moments

On the day of her death, Poppie van der Merwe did not want to eat or talk.

The evening before, her stepfather Kobus Koekemoer allegedly hit her head hard against a closet.

Little Poppie (3) lay on the mat in front of the television on the morning of 25 October 2016, on the farm near Mamogaleskraal outside of Brits.

She was "half-awake, half-asleep", her mother Louisa testified on Wednesday in the Pretoria High Court.

"Kobus had come home from town and kicked Poppie in the stomach as she lay on the mat. I told him in advance that she was tired.

“He often kicked her in the stomach,” said Louisa, who is also being charged with her daughter’s murder.

Louisa testified that Kobus told her she should go take groceries he had bought from the bakkie.

"I cannot remember if she cried or not when he kicked her. I told him he could not kick her because she did not feel well, she just needed to rest a little but he didn’t listen to me. . . "

Louisa claims that Poppie wasn’t lying on the carpet anymore when she entered the house, after getting the groceries.

She claims Kobus told her "Poppie is playing dead again".

Louisa testified that when she found her child in the bathroom, she was already blue around her mouth.

She tried to resuscitate Poppie by giving her mouth-to-mouth, but it didn’t work. Her blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter was already dead.

The court heard earlier that Poppie was declared dead at the Brits hospital upon arrival.

The doctor on duty called the police after he became suspicious of the injuries on Poppie’s body.           

Kobus (44) has already changed his version of events many times. He was arrested at the hospital, while Louisa was arrested a month later after further investigation.

As part of her testimony on Wednesday, Louisa denied that she had ever assaulted her child.

The times she was present when the children were "injured", she claimed they had fallen or accidentally bumped their heads.

”Most cases” when they had blue patches or injuries, "was after Kobus assaulted them," she claimed.

 She argued that she hadn’t asked for help because Kobus threatened to kill her family.

She admitted she also hid it for Heidi Smit, the counsellor at Poppie's school.

"Kobus said I should not tell them what was going on, otherwise they will take the children away."

She claimed the assaults started getting worse and more frequent when they moved to Brits.

During his testimony Kobus blamed Louisa for Poppie's death.

He said he had given the little girl a “serious hiding” with a wooden spoon whenever she was naughty but denies having had anything to do with her death.

He apparently did not show any emotion when images of Poppie's battered body was shown in court.

He denied that he threw her against a wall or a closet or kicked her in the head and stomach. He also denied that he held Poppie’s head upside down in the toilet bowl and flushed the toilet.

Kobus says Louisa threw Poppie out of the room on the morning of her death, because Poppie had wet the bed.  That is when he claims Poppie hit her head against the wall.

Dr Gert Saayman, a forensic pathologist, testified on Tuesday that Poppie received a serious blow or several blows to her. There were multiple old and fresh bruises.

Poppie could only have survived if she had received medical attention immediately, he added.

"I never thought it would go that far," Louisa said in court on Wednesday, as she had said previously in her interview with YOU before her arrest.

But on 15 December 2016, she was arrested in connection with the death of the three-year-old.

Poppie’s 5-year-old brother has now been placed in custody. The boy's half-sister (then 15) was returned to her biological father's care.