Months ago Siam Lee’s mother, Nan Lee, said she would return to Asia and leave the Durban High Court to hear evidence about her daughter’s gruesome kidnapping and murder without her.
When she returned this week to hear Judge Naresh Bhika strike the case off the roll, declaring accused Philani Ntuli dead, she was on a whistle-stop visit.
Not from Hong Kong, where Siam was born 20 years before her charred body was found in a sugarcane field in January last year, but from Bloemfontein.
It’s not the first time she had used the Free State capital as a bolt hole.
She recalled: “I once lost a big part of my income from renting my house out to students when a campus moved from Durban North to uMhlanga so I thought of transferring to Bloem, putting Siam into a boarding school and finding a farmer. Siam must have been in about Grade 9.
“I envisioned that Siam would be able to focus and knuckle down, but the headmaster said to me, ‘My dear, boarding school is not like it was back in the day. At the weekends all the girls leave the hostel and she will be lonely’.”
Nan Lee was a boarder at Wykeham, a private school in Pietermaritzburg. However, she left before matriculating and pursued a career in dancing that took her Asia.
Lee said on Tuesday she was on an in-and-out visit to Durban because she had to hurry back to Bloemfontein for a psychiatric appointment on Thursday. “It’s in-out. But that’s fine. I need to get a few things out of storage. Personal papers pertaining to our lives.
“They’ll be needed because my intention is to start putting our story together. In a book. It’s very much a dream. But it will be about the real story of Siam’s life and my life and our lives together and the day she was abducted.”
Shuffling through her handbag, she pulled out the diary she had kept during Ntuli’s magistrate’s court hearings comprising appearance after appearance that resulted in him being granted R40 000 bail.
With the notebook, numerous library cards also spilled out of her handbag.
Reading has always played an important part in her life. And Siam’s too, said Lee.
“In the last 18 months reading has been part of my therapy. It’s a huge escapism. I get lost in a novel when thinking about my reality.”
She also throws herself into meditation and prayer, she said.
“And I am getting my yoga mat out of storage.”
Siam was also a good reader, her mother said.
“She had the same philosophy as I did. Being an only child, reading was important to her. It was an escape.”
Siam matriculated at Crawford College in 2015. In those years she had believed that a trust left to her by her late father, Cape Town businessman Howard Greenspan, who was murdered in his Clifton penthouse in 2005, would continue to carry her through to a tertiary education. But when she turned 18 those purse strings snapped shut.
“She was left behind by her contemporaries who went to Stellenbosch and Rhodes (universities). They all had futures. She had really believed that the trust money would come through, as promised.
“Year after year went by and I watched her wither. Or not bloom.”
Criticism has been levelled at Lee for bringing her daughter into the adult entertainment world in which she had worked, even referring to her daughter as her student on the web site Red Velvet.
They operated out of a house known to be a brothel in Margaret Maytom Avenue, Durban North, from where Siam disappeared.
Lee insists her daughter was only a masseur and not a prostitute.
“Working as a masseur gave her more self-confidence,” she said.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” she added.
Meanwhile, Lee has always had her childhood friend, Simone Buch, supporting her in court.
Buch spoke of Nan Lee growing up in a broken home, where the alcoholism she lives with had its roots and how, after school, she became a stripper, never to leave a path that led her into a sad world.