Cape Town -
Informal chitchat to his daughter’s new best friend, and the casual mention of her birthday triggered a suspicion in Cape Town father Morné Nurse that the teenager could be Zephany, the daughter he’d been searching for over 17 years.
He alerted police, and after a month-long probe, they confirmed that she was his missing child - and that she had been living in Lavender Hill, just a stone’s throw away from Muizenberg where the Nurse family used to live.
She now goes by another name and surname, which cannot be disclosed because she is a minor. She turns 18 on April 27.
Her biological father was reluctant to speak about his daughter after apparently striking an exclusive deal for his story.
Her mother also did not want to comment.
However, according to a source who declined to be identified, Zephany and her biological sister met at their high school near Retreat at the start of the school year.
They clicked instantly and became friends despite the four-year age gap.
“It was like a natural connection,” the source said.
The sister had just started Grade 8 at the school at which Zephany was in matric. They often chatted during school, and pupils teased them because they bore a striking resemblance to one another.
Zephany is also the spitting image of her father, the source said.
The two teens became close and one day went off to a nearby McDonalds without letting Nurse know, which sent him into a state of panic when he couldn’t find them at school - a frightening reminder that he’d already lost one child.
The source said Nurse often saw Zephany when he fetched his daughter from school, but had not noticed how closely they resembled one another.
He made small talk with her when the two girls were together, and Zephany slowly started to reveal bits of her background and family.
However, towards the end of last month when she mentioned her birthday in conversation, it suddenly occurred to him that she could be Zephany. Nurse reported his concerns to the police, who started looking into the matter.
After a month-long probe, police and social welfare officials made contact with Zephany and explained the situation.
In terms of a section of the Children’s Act, she was able to consent to having her blood sample taken for DNA testing.
The tests confirmed this week that she is indeed Zephany, who was abducted from her mother’s arms at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1997.
She is now in the care of social welfare officials.
On Thursday, the 50-year-old qualified machinist who raised the child as her own, was arrested. She made her first appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court yesterday on a charge of kidnapping a minor.
With her hands clasped together, she stood in the dock and stared nervously at news reporters
. Several members of her family were present in the public gallery to support her, and they appeared to be a close-knit family.
It was a heart-wrenching scene to watch.
After proceedings were concluded, the accused’s family huddled together, overcome with emotion.
“We are very heartbroken. We loved each other. She is our child,” one of the accused’s sisters said.
Another distraught relative said she knew that Zephany was raised in a loving home for 17 years. The accused breastfed her as a baby and took good care of her throughout her life.
They were concerned that the girl would have to endure the trauma of being separated during her matric year from the woman she knew as her mother. The family claimed that Nurse had taken the teen out to eat without their knowledge, and that she soon started to pepper them with questions.
The accused is to remain in custody until Friday, when she next appears in court.
State advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo requested the postponement, saying the State did not have sufficient information to enable it to decide its stance on whether the accused should be released on bail.
She submitted that the alleged offence was serious, that an eyewitness would be expected to participate in an ID parade, and that there were State witnesses who were close to the accused.
However, defence attorney Reaz Khan objected, saying that the alleged crime was a schedule one offence, which meant the onus was on the State to prove that it was not in the interests of justice to release his client.
He added that she had been co-operative with police and was therefore not a flight risk.
The accused had had a heart attack at the end of 2013, and required regular medical attention, taking 10 tablets a day.
Further detention would be prejudicial to her, he said.
However, magistrate Zanekhaya Mbalo did not agree with the defence, and ordered that she be held in custody for a week. The State requested that the accused’s picture not be published due to the imminent ID parade.
She is to be held in the holding cells at the Woodstock Police Station.