WITH the pain still as raw as it was a year ago, the family of a 10-year-old Cookhouse girl who was raped and brutally murdered were yesterday relieved at the two life sentences handed down to her killer this week – saying they could now concentrate on their healing.
Sharai Powels was raped and thrown in front of a train on May 19 last year by her mother’s boyfriend’s son, Adam Plaatjies – an incident that rocked the small community of Cookhouse, near Somerset East.
Bits of her body and remnants of the clothes she wore that fateful Saturday afternoon were found near the railway line by a passer-by who was on his way to work.
Plaatjies, 31, who lives in Colchester, was sentenced by Judge Bonisile Sandi in the Grahamstown High Court and will serve his time at Port Elizabeth’s St Albans Prison.
In an interview with The Herald yesterday, Sharai’s mother, Dorothy, 43, said while they would never see their “precious girl”, she was glad that justice had “somehow” been served.
“I’m pleased and satisfied with the sentence because just like I’ll never see my Sharai again, he will be locked up far away from his own family.”
Residents of Cookhouse, angered by the ruthless murder, said the sentence had saved Plaatjies’s life as he would have been “messed up” had he been seen roaming the streets again.
There was not a dry eye in the little shack nestled on the outskirts of the small town, where Dorothy still stays with her boyfriend, Adam’s father Isaac Plaatjies.
While Isaac, 60, felt for his son, he was glad he “got what he deserved” as Isaac had been feeling the pain of the Powels family.
“This thing has been eating away at me since that day because this is not what I taught him. It is not how he was brought up,” he said tearfully.
Sharai was described as a very friendly, adorable, plump little girl with a beautiful heart. She did not have many friends, except a best friend, and was very close to her family.
Dorothy said the Cookhouse Primary School Grade 3 pupil was also a budding netball player, with teachers encouraging her family to nurture her talent on the court.
Her life, however, came to an abrupt end on Saturday, May 19 2012, after Plaatjies arrived at her home to visit the family.
He later asked Dorothy if Sharai could accompany him to point out the home of a traditional healer who lived nearby, and the mother agreed.
When Sharai did not come back home an hour later, her mother became anxious and started looking for her. She called Plaatjies’s cellphone, but got nowhere.
“I was getting frantic. I had everyone I know looking for her that afternoon and eventually went to the police at about 6pm,” she tearfully recalled.
The family reported her missing to the police, who also tried to reach Plaatjies to no avail, but were told to come back after 24 hours.
First thing on the Sunday morning, Dorothy and Isaac again went to the police station and as she was being attended to, a call came through to the station to say someone had been hit by a train.
They were told to wait until the police returned from the scene, where they found the mutilated body parts of a young girl next to the railway line, about 2km from the Powels home.
“They took us there and there was little other than bits of clothes strewn all over, but the doek [head scarf] I recognised because she had been wearing that when she left the house. When I saw that, I immediately knew that my child was dead,” she said.
A week later Plaatjies was traced in Colchester and arrested. After his arrest he made a few admissions to police which were formally recorded.
According to Isaac, who went to see him after he was sentenced, Plaatjies avoided any questions about what had happened more than 10 months ago and why.
“When I asked him what happened he would just look down and say nothing. I don’t know why he does that – whether it’s regret or what.
“I really don’t know. I can’t speak for him,” he said.
Sharai’s 18-year-old sister, Charlotte, who would not attend court appearances due to her “soft heart”, burst into tears when she recalled the tragedy and how her family had to bury parts of her little sister’s body.
“My sister and I were very close. In fact, we were like twins despite the age gap,” she said.
“Even on that day, we were going to go somewhere together, but I had been sent to the shops and she had already left when I returned.
“Sharai’s best friend, Claudine Jamson, was with her that day, but was chased away by Plaatjies. So he knew what he was doing.
“I’m glad he got this sentence, but it would have been better if he got the death sentence so that his family could feel the pain that we felt.”
Relative Thembisa Nkcayi, who is married to Sharai’s paternal uncle, said she had been praying Plaatjies would get a harsh sentence and felt her prayers had been answered.
“What he did was horrendous. It would have been easier to deal with had he just raped her, but to kill her like that is what hurts the most.
“I would have been very disappointed if he had been given a lesser sentence,” she said.
Resident Cariston Leeuskieter was also relieved at the sentence, saying the community had been so outraged at the senseless killing that a manhunt had ensued with members out for the killer’s blood.
“We were all shocked and angry and, as a result, we went looking for him every night after that because we had heard that he was hiding in one of the houses. Had we found him, we would have seriously messed him up,” he said.
Isaac said his son had always been a regular youngster, until five years ago when his mother died.
“They were very close and after her death, he just started misbehaving,” he said.
He said Plaatjies had previously been accused of rape by the mother of a school pupil in nearby Kommadagga who he had been dating when he was already out of school.
“She didn’t like the relationship and reported that he had raped her daughter,” Isaac said. – Additional reporting by Lee-Anne Butler