The accused initially faced a lifetime in prison, but Judge Majeke Mabesele says he considered the fact that they were first-time offenders and have two other children who cannot afford to be raised without their parents.
By BOTHO MOLOSANKWE
Johannesburg – They strapped her dead body into a pram, turned it towards a TV that was on full blast, locked the doors and went out drinking.
When they returned to the house drunk, the mother lifted the corpse out of the pram, put it to her chest and started dancing with it, tears rolling down her face, opening the dead child’s eyes and begging it to wake up.
In the bedroom, the father was attacking the headboard, hitting it with his fists.
This is a snapshot into the psyche of the parents of 10-month-old Samantha as given by Lea Booysen, the infant’s guardian for three months. Booysen and Samantha’s mother met when the mother visited the shebeen run from the property where Booysen lived.
Booysen and her two daughters witnessed the violent and morbid display of emotions when they were at the house after being told of Samantha’s death.
A few days later, Adriaan Netto and his girlfriend – who can’t be named to protect the identity of their other children – were arrested. They were ultimately convicted of culpable homicide when a court found they had subjected Samantha to the long-term physical abuse that led to her death.
The infant had also been raped.
Her parents maintained their innocence, saying they would never have harmed the daughter they loved. However, Booysen and Bettie Lubbe – another woman who took care of Samantha from when she was a few weeks old – painted a disturbing picture of a couple constantly drinking and not interested in their child, yet refusing to allow anyone else to give her the love and care they themselves could not.
Both Lubbe and Booysen recalled how Samantha’s mother drank and smoked during her pregnancy and later gave birth to twins. While her brother was born healthy, Samantha was not, and she stayed a further two weeks in hospital.
When she was three weeks old, the parents gave her to Lubbe to take care of, saying the mother was battling to cope with two children.
Besides the clothes she was wearing and a little milk in her bottle, they had not brought anything else.
However, Lubbe was only too happy to take care of Samantha.
“It is because you could see from the beginning that they did not like her. They had never gone to visit her at the hospital. And even when she was with me, they never came to visit. They would only come if they wanted nappies, clothes and food for the other twin and also if they wanted to borrow money,” she said.
When Samantha was three months old, Lubbe wanted to go to St Lucia to visit her daughter for a month and asked to take Samantha with her. Not only did Netto and his girlfriend refuse, they also demanded their child back.
Two days later, while on the bus on her way to St Lucia, Lubbe got an SMS from Samantha’s mother: “Do you know anyone who can take care of Samantha? I can’t cope,” it read.
A heartbroken Lubbe did not respond.
“They did not want to give me the baby, yet they wanted me to help them look for someone who could,” she said.
Soon after that, the couple were at their usual drinking hole with the three-month-old twins when they told Booysen that Samantha cried a lot and they wanted to give her to someone.
Booysen offered to look after her.
Samantha, Booysen recalled, was so dirty that she stank.
When she pried open the little clenched fists, the child’s palms were dirty. Dirt was also ingrained between her fingers.
“It was as if she had never been bathed.”
Another thing that shocked her was Netto’s alleged blatant hatred for Samantha.
“He always referred to her as a ‘bitch’, and the mother never said anything.”
Three months later, when the six-month-old Samantha was clean, thriving and within her developmental milestones, Netto and his girlfriend asked for their baby back.
Crying, Booysen begged to keep her but her parents would not budge.
One day, they visited her with the twins, and when her eldest daughter took Samantha to change her nappy, Netto’s reaction shocked them.
“He grabbed Samantha and said she was his child and he would change her nappy himself. He and his girlfriend then drove to their house, changed the nappy and came back,” said Booysen.
On March 12 last year, the couple, very drunk, arrived at her house in the evening and told her that Samantha was dead.
With her two daughters, they went with the couple to the house and, from the gate, they could hear a loud noise inside. Netto unlocked the door of the dark house, and he and his girlfriend stood outside, drinking and chain smoking.
Inside, Luther Vandross’s voice blared from the TV speakers. In front of the TV, Samantha lay dead in her pram. While her dad was punching the headboard in the bedroom, her mother picked up the body and danced with it.
Later, Booysen said, the mother put the body down, picked up her twin and put him on top of the corpse, saying he must kiss his dead sister goodbye.