Baby snatching case mesmerises SA

JOHANNESBURG -CELESTE  Nurse was dozing in her hospital bed when her newborn daughter Zephany was kidnapped by a woman disguised as a nurse. Through a twist of fate, she was reunited with her daughter nearly 18 years later in a case that has mesmerised South Africa.

A woman charged with stealing a newborn baby from its mother’s arms 17 years ago was granted bail by a South African court on Friday.

Zephany Nurse, who is now nearing her 18th birthday, was taken from a Cape Town hospital in 1997 while her biological mother was recovering from a cesarean section.

She reconnected with her biological family after accidentally making friends with her birth sister at school and people started noticing the striking similarity between them.

A DNA test revealed that Zephany was the daughter of Celeste and Morne Nurse, prompting authorities to remove her from her adoptive parents and open a case against the 50-year-old “foster” mother.

The girl is currently living under the supervision of a social worker and maintains contact with her biological family and the adoptive father. The court has barred the adoptive mother from contacting her.

“[We] will not rush this reunification, as it is of a sensitive nature,” the department in charge of the process said in a statement.

“Short planned visits and interaction sessions took place this weekend between the biological family and the teen. These are designed to begin the process of creating a comfortable environment for the family to begin bonding,” it added.

The case – which includes charges of kidnapping, fraud and contravention of child protection legislation – is likely to be heard in about five months, once police have finalized their investigation.

The suspect could face anything from a non-custodial sentence to a prison term of up to 17 years. Her lawyer, Reaz Khan, told dpa he was hoping for an out-of-court settlement due to mitigating personal circumstances. He declined to provide further details.

Media reports have said the woman had suffered a stillbirth shortly before abducting Zephany.

The police spokesman did not want to comment on whether the adoptive father was aware she was not his biological child, but a spokesman for the National Prosecution Authority confirmed that he does not face charges.

The case has mesmerized South Africa and there has been a public outpouring of support for the biological parents, who reportedly never gave up the hope of finding Zephany – staging a birthday party for her every year.

“I told her, ‘From the first day I saw you for the first time, I knew you were my daughter’,” Zephany’s birth father, Morne, told the broadcaster eNCA.

“It feels like I’m living a dream,” said the mother, Celeste. “I gave her a hug and she hugged me, but it felt different from when I hug my [three younger]other kids,” she described their first encounter, explaining that “there is still a lot to process and it hurts.” – Sapa-dpa