Cape Town - A small figure in a striped top, the woman charged with kidnapping baby Zephany Nurse 17 years ago clutched her hands nervously in the dock on Friday morning.
The 50-year-old woman is set to spend the next week in jail as investigators round up the remaining evidence.
Her appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court followed an astonishing coincidence that led to the discovery of Zephany Nurse – taken as a newborn from her sleeping mother’s arms in Groote Schuur Hospital in April 1997.
Zephany grew up with a different name, and a different family, never knowing she was not their real daughter.
But last month her biological sister, Cassidy Nurse, started Grade 8 at the same school that Zephany attended, and fellow pupils noticed a startling resemblance she bore to a matric pupil.
After Cassidy told her parents about the matric girl, the Nurses invited her over for a cup of coffee, under the pretence that they wanted to meet Cassidy’s friend.
When they too saw the striking similarities between the girls, Morné Nurse contacted the police.
Soon the Hawks were involved, questioning the girl’s parents and taking DNA samples.
A DNA test confirmed that the 17-year-old girl is indeed the daughter of Celeste and Morné Nurse.
The accused woman was arrested by the Hawks on Thursday.
The Mitchells Plain woman and her husband, in his fifties, have no other children.
Outside the Cape Town courtroom where the woman appeared on Friday morning, her family was in tears. Their world has been turned upside down.
“She has been part of our lives for ever,” said the sister of the woman charged with kidnapping Zephany. “And now she’s just gone... We have had no contact or anything. We have no idea where she is.”
The accused abductor appeared in court 16 at around 10am.
Sitting in the back of the court, the Nurse family watched her carefully.
State prosecutor Bonnie Currie-Gamwo requested that the accused remain behind bars to prevent her from interfering with the ongoing investigation.
Several interviews still had to be conducted with witnesses, an identity parade had to be held and material evidence collected.
But the defendant’s lawyer Reaz Khan argued that she was not a flight risk, adding that his client had had a heart attack in 2013 and required regular access to a doctor.
But Magistrate Zanekhaya Mbalo ruled in the State’s favour. The accused’s expression was passive as she heard she would spend the next week behind bars at Woodstock police station.
Her family were devastated. They wept outside the courtroom, the Nurse family barely glancing at them as they walked by in a tight huddle.
The accused is set to appear again on March 6.
“The suspect is being charged with kidnapping, fraud and contravening... the Children’s Act – in that she fraudulently pretended that she was the biological mother of a child,” police said.
“The kidnapped girl has since been placed in the care of the Department of Social Services of the Western Cape Government.”
Without knowing it, Celeste and Morné Nurse had been living within a couple of kilometres of their daughter.
Since the day in 1997 when Celeste was dozing peacefully in Groote Schuur’s maternity ward, only to wake up and find her first-born baby had been snatched, the Nurses have had three other children: Cassidy, Joshua and Micah.
As the years went by they celebrated Zephany’s birthday on April 28 each year, often with a giant cake sponsored by Pick n Pay. And they kept searching.
In a 2010 interview with the Weekend Argus, Morné Nurse said he was still holding out for his lost daughter.
“I’ll never, ever give up hope. I can feel it in my gut – my daughter is out there and she is going to come home.”
But on Thursday night, he was not willing to speak to the media as the family met to decide the way forward now that Zephany had been found and her future thrown into turmoil.
“We have no closure here,” he said.