Justice for baby Tammy Herman

Relates to:
Date: 2008-09-13

Justice for baby Tammy Herman
September 13, 2008
Karen Van Rooyen    

Toddler-killer defiant on judgment dayJealous wife believed child would survive assault, court finds

Johannesburg bank employee Zaibonisha Herman adopted a three-month-old baby to help save her rocky marriage.

But on the day she was convicted of killing the little girl, named Tammy, in one of the worst child-abuse cases in South Africa, her husband was not at her side.

Instead, Herman was forced to rely on her sister, Nazley Hoosain, and a handful of friends for support on her judgment day.

But despite the damning judgment, the 46-year-old — who, according to Hoosain, is still with her husband — was still defiant.

“I just want them to investigate this properly; there are a lot of things they need to investigate,” she told the Sunday Times in the corridor of the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court minutes after being found guilty.

Weeping, she said she had loved her daughter. “I still have a box of hairpins (belonging to Tammy) at home. When my husband (Donovan) and I talked about her, it broke us that we would have to tell her one day that we were not her real parents ... I’m helpless.”

But Johannesburg Magistrate Lucas van der Schyff ruled that Herman was guilty of culpable homicide and three counts of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. He cited her husband’s infidelity and her suspicion that he may have fathered Tammy as a possible motive for the abuse.

The court found that Herman “inflicted all injuries over a period of time” on the child — including 12 broken ribs — and had assaulted her so severely that the child died of a ruptured liver.

But Van der Schyff ruled that she was not guilty of murder because Herman believed the toddler would survive yet another assault and had therefore not intended to kill her.

The Hermans, both divorcees with a child each, married in 1996 and planned to have a child together.

But Zaibonisha Herman was unable to conceive and they decided to adopt — putting on a happy face to officials who had no idea that Donovan’s infidelity had nearly wrecked their marriage.

Tammy became their daughter at the age of three months and all seemed well until, at 21 months, the dehydrated, cold little girl with sunken eyes was admitted to the Garden City Clinic. Five days later, she was dead.

Tests showed that Tammy had 12 broken ribs in various stages of healing and a ruptured liver — the kind of injury usually sustained in a “serious accident”.

Her ribs would have caused her severe pain and made it difficult to breathe. Herman told the court she tried to ease her daughter’s discomfort after she began vomiting by standing with her in the shower.

She claimed Tammy fell and hit her head, but the court did not believe her, saying the toddler’s injuries were too severe to have been caused by a fall in the shower.

In his judgment, Van der Schyff said that Herman’s “painstaking attention to minute detail” in describing her child’s fall which she recalled almost verbatim months after the death, indicated she had probably “fabricated” the story.

She contradicted herself several times, once when she claimed that her husband first noticed Tammy’s sore arm, only to testify later that it was her brother who noticed it.

Van der Schyff dismissed all other suspects — including Tammy’s nanny, Franscinah Makara, and Donovan Herman — saying that the toddler’s mother had more opportunity and motive than anybody else to harm her and that she had never bonded with the child.

“Mr Herman bonded with the child more and he took her to hospital,” he said. “If he was the culprit, he would’ve been reluctant to take the child to a doctor who would blow the whistle.”

Van der Schyff said Herman may have harmed Tammy because she suspected that her husband was the child’s biological father, and her mother his former mistress.

Pam Wilson, adoption supervisor at Johannesburg Child Welfare Society which handled the adoption, said she was relieved at the outcome of the case. “But there are still many unanswered questions. We really still don’t know what happened in that family,” she said.

Wilson said her organisation had, because of Tammy’s ordeal, now made psychological testing compulsory for prospective parents, along with the thorough screening which had always been in place.

“This little girl’s life, as short as it was, was very difficult,” she said.

“The people who have been responsible for the care of the child know what happened. They have to live with it forever.”

Bail was extended to October 28 when Herman will be sentenced.

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