WARNING: This post contains content that may upset some readers.
Witnesses contradicted each other in the murder trial of Chevonne Rusch on Thursday about what they could remember about the alleged neglect of the toddler. This while another witness pointed out that the toddler’s mother denied any kind of abuse, up to and including the moment of Chevonne’s death.
Rochelle Botha and her ex-fiancé, Stefan van Niekerk, are the main suspects in the murder of Botha’s youngest child, Chevonne.
Several witnesses had their turn today to review their interactions with Chevonne and Botha before the toddler’s death on 11 May 2022 in a session of the High Court in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.
At the request of the court, no witnesses are identified in the case.
One witness remembers how she first met the toddler in a terrible condition in April last year. This witness went to visit friends, who are also relatives of Van Niekerk. It is here that she found two-year-old Chevonne.
“She was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, and was barefoot without a diaper or any underwear,” says the witness.
“I remember what she wore because it was cold, and these clothes are still at my house.”
The witness claims that the toddler had a swollen lip and a burn on her upper lip, and that half of her face was pot blue.
She heard Chevonne tell the friend that her genital area was burning. “She also complained that her legs were burning.”
The witness, who herself has a toddler, asked her friend why the child was in such a precarious condition. Botha and Van Niekerk apparently told this friend that it was because Chevonne had fallen.
The witness says she immediately instructed her friend’s daughter to apply ointment to Chevonne so she could feel better.
“I told (my friend) I don’t know who Chevonne’s mother is, I’ve never met her, but I’m taking this child home with me now because she doesn’t even have a nappy or milk and has to be taken care of.”
The witness’s girlfriend then called Botha and informed her about what was going to happen, and the latter apparently agreed that Chevonne would go to the witness’s house, whom she had never met.
“Chevonne was screaming from the time I found her at (my friend’s) house until we got to my house. She kept shouting that she wanted her mother,” says the witness.
She tried to bathe Chevonne and her own toddler, but Chevonne refused, so she just wiped her with a cloth. She creamed Chevonne’s body and dressed her warmly.
“I gave her a bottle of milk in the kitchen and she fell asleep in my arms almost immediately. I made her a bed next to mine and she slept through the night until she cried for her mother again the next morning at 05:00.
“I took her to the television room, gave her a yogurt, pacifier and a blanket while she watched television. She calmed down immediately.”
The witness says she quietly took pictures of Chevonne’s bruised face and finally sent all the information she could find about the toddler and her mother to Childline South Africa who promised to send someone to investigate the matter. It is unclear whether anything ever came of it.
The same friend with whom Chevonne was dropped off in April last year, and who called on the first witness for help, however told a completely different story about that day’s events.
According to this friend, Botha and Van Niekerk dropped Chevonne off at her place that day, because Van Niekerk’s brother had gone missing and they wanted to look for him. Chevonne was indeed dropped off without any proper clothes, nappies or food.
She says she summoned the first witness to the house, as she has a toddler and therefore had the necessities to take care of Chevonne properly.
However, this witness says that Chevonne at no stage said that her genital area was “burning” and furthermore that she did not have any injuries on her body.
According to the witness, she also did not speak directly to Botha about the arrangements with Chevonne, and in the end Chevonne spent almost three days with her, “but she did not injure herself at all during this time”.
The witness does admit that at that stage she was in a “state” about Van Niekerk’s brother who had gone missing.
Policing Forum intervenes
A witness from the local community policing forum in Germiston says she heard from Botha and her children for the first time in February 2022 after her family called the policing forum for help. They claimed that Botha was being held, tied up and mistreated by Van Niekerk against her will.
The witness says that after a great struggle she finally got hold of Botha to ask her about the allegations. However, Botha argued that nothing was being done and that her family was just trying to worm themselves into her relationship and “make up stories”.
Three days before Chevonne’s murder, Botha contacted the policing forum directly and requested that someone visit her. The very witness went to visit her at the house where Chevonne died days later.
According to the witness, Botha wanted to clarify her family’s allegations against Van Niekerk and she told the witness that Van Niekerk “is a good man” who never physically harmed her or the children.
“He never even raised his voice to us,” Botha told the witness.
“I can promise you that I will kill him before he kills me.”
Botha argued that her family spread all kinds of stories about Van Niekerk because they felt he had alienated her from them.
Botha had no obvious injuries, and according to Botha, the children were not at home, so she could not examine them for any injuries. The witness says Botha repeatedly turned down her offer of help and a custody order against Van Niekerk.
A day before Chevonne’s death, the witness visited Botha again, but she assured her that everything was in order and that she did not have to worry about them.
It was only the day after Chevonne’s death, when Van Niekerk was arrested, that Botha indicated that he had abused at least one of her children.
According to the witness, she went to Botha’s family’s house after hearing about Chevonne’s death. Botha discussed the issue with her family that she should go and identify Chevonne’s body, but that she did not want to see what condition the child was in.
“Botha told her family, in my presence, that Van Niekerk pushed Chevonne with a hot glass pipe – which is used to ingest crystal methamphetamine – against and in Chevonne’s mouth.
“She said he used the same pipe to burn Chevonne under her arms and feet, after which he burned her with the hot crystals from the drugs.
“I was traumatized by what I heard, and left there soon after.”
Van Niekerk’s lawyer denied all these allegations.
Before Chevonne’s death, two women had already called the police’s family protection unit about allegations that Botha’s children were being mistreated. However, no case was ever filed, because the area where it allegedly took place was outside that police station’s jurisdiction.
“I told the women that I would look at the case again if it ended up in my jurisdiction,” the sergeant in the case told the court on Thursday.
The trial continues on Friday.