Thursday 19 April 2018

'I'm not sorry' - woman guilty of stealing baby in trial which gripped South Africa

Celeste Nurse, the mother of a girl who was kidnapped nearly 19 years ago in Cape Town. Photo: AP
Celeste Nurse, the mother of a girl who was kidnapped nearly 19 years ago in Cape Town. Photo: AP

Aislinn Laing

A South African seamstress has been found guilty of snatching a three-day-old baby from her mother's side in hospital 18 years ago.

The woman, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, said before her conviction that she loved the girl and "will always be her mother".

"I love her and if she wants me, I will always be in her life. I will always be her mother," she said.

Judge John Hlope, sitting at Cape Town's high court, told the woman he had "listened to her lies for days" about how she was given the baby in an informal adoption arrangement with a woman she barely knew, and how she never realised the child was abducted.

"You must have been the person who removed the child from hospital," he said. "Your story, if anything, is a fairy tale and the court rejects it with the contempt it deserves."

Judge Hlope said he found the state witnesses, who told the court they saw the woman at the hospital and that she had tried unsuccessfully to take another child, "trustworthy", and found the woman guilty on three counts of kidnapping, fraud and contravening child protection laws.

The girl's biological mother, Celeste Nurse (36), sobbed loudly as the guilty verdicts were handed down, as people in the public gallery chanted: "Yes! Yes!"

The 51-year-old woman was denied bail and taken into custody ahead of sentencing on May 30. She was told by the judge she faces 10 years imprisonment.

The disappearance of Zephany Nurse, as her birth parents named her, from Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on April 30, 1997, made headlines around the world. Every year, her parents celebrated her birthday with a cake and a fresh media appeal for help in finding her.

She was reunited with her biological family by an astonishing coincidence in February last year after her younger sister started at her school and classmates noticed the striking resemblance between them.

Cassidy Nurse (14) told her parents about the older girl and they invited her home for tea. On meeting her, they contacted the police, who confirmed her identity through DNA tests.

Speaking after the verdict, Zephany's cousin, Asante Booysen, said they were "very happy and satisfied". "As we always knew, God had his plan," she said. "He knew why we had to wait nearly 20 years for all this to happen."

In a plea statement read to the opening of her trial at Cape Town's high court last week, the accused said her own mother had abandoned her at the age of 12, that she endured years of abuse at the hands of her first husband and lost her first child at the age of six weeks, before suffering three miscarriages.

In an interview, she maintained her innocence and said she was "not sorry" for the way she obtained the child.

"The lord knows why he placed her in my arms," she told South Africa's News24 website. "I thank him for the 17 years and 10 months I had with her."

She said her only regret was not telling the child she was not her biological mother. "I'm not sorry I took her when the woman handed her over that day," she said. "What I am sorry for is that she found out about it this way." Reports suggest that the girl continues to live with her kidnapper's husband, whom she considers to be her father.

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