Johannesburg - Miché Solomon stripped off her legal cloak of anonymity this week to be allowed to tell her own story for the first time, in an act of incredible courage that surprised many, but not the woman she worked with to write her biography.
Zephany, Two Mothers One Daughter, tells the compelling story of Baby Zephany, born on April 28, 1997 in Groote Schuur Hospital to Celeste and Morne Nurse, and who was kidnapped three days later.
Solomon, 22, was raised believing Lavona and Michael Solomon were her real parents until 2015 when classmates remarked on her striking resemblance to another child, Cassidy, the Nurses’ younger daughter, who attended the school.
Morne Nurse reported it to the Hawks and Solomon was forced to take a DNA test.
The results proved that Solomon was the other girl’s sister.
She’d grown up within walking distance of her biological parents.
Her “mother”, Lavona was convicted of kidnapping and is serving a 10-year sentence.
On Friday, author Joanne Jowell spoke of her admiration for Solomon, saying the young mother of two had a resilience and an inner strength that surprised her.
“She was not what I thought she would be, definitely not what I expected when I met her. She is a woman of steel with a maturity and insight way beyond her years.”
Solomon and her lawyer, Dr Anne Skelton, the director of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law had been speaking to NB Publishers about the prospect of writing Solomon’s story more than a year ago.
The publishers then contacted Jowell to see if she would be interested.
“I write biographies, ordinary people’s ordinary stories and I’m drawn to things with a strong psychological element, so I was fascinated at the prospect.
The writing, however, took a backseat, while Jowell built up a rapport with Solomon.
“I met Miché a year ago, mostly for her to check me out if she would feel comfortable talking to me.
“Emotionally the process of writing this book was very hard and very enlightening,” Jowell said.
She felt overwhelmed, both as a writer and as a mother.
“It was taxing on the heartstrings. I responded as a mother. Immediately I felt like I needed to wrap my arms around her and offer her something that she had lost.”
Crafting the story, though, was simpler, though Miché’s biological parents didn’t want any part of the book.
“Unfortunately, it was incredibly difficult to get through to the Nurses. They declined to be involved with the book, which is a great pity. I would have loved personally and professionally to have sat down with Celeste, Morne and Cassidy, but perhaps that’s for the future.
“We have heard that they are writing their own book But as Miché says in the book, she stepped back from a quite unpleasant negotiation.
“Now this has turned into a ‘us vs them’ situation in a most heartbreaking of human stories. We tried hard but when I realised it was an outright no, I came to appreciate the fact that this was and is Miché’s story; wholly, completely and entirely.
“As the public, we know the Nurses’ narrative, but this is a chance to hear Miché’s side. Miché has absolutely not closed the door and she and Celeste try. But it is still a relationship that needs to be created.”
Another difficulty, said Jowell, was that many of the people who knew Lavona had died.
“Miché says she so badly wants to believe her mom but she can’t show her anything to prove her story. She says her heart wants to believe it but her head is saying something else.”
Every book Jowell has written, she said, has a unique fingerprint and story. She has written about someone living with bulimia, about a single mother shamed into giving her new baby up for adoption, about Larry Joe, an ex-convict and singer turned motivational speaker.
Her most recent book was about rugby referee Jonathan Kaplan’s decision to be a single dad with a surrogate mother. What made this story difficult was the fact that everyone had their own opinion on it.
“People feel so strongly about this. They think they know everything about this story. It’s been an incredible honour to help her find her platform, her voice. And I am just a small part of her journey.
“Miché was absolutely prepared for this whirlwind and scrutiny with this book. She has come out with her head on her shoulders and she is ready for the world and all their questions.
“She says it in the book; ‘I’m tired of hiding’,” said Jowell.
That was the only reason for Solomon telling her story, said Jowell.
“It certainly wasn’t money. She is very aware of the fact that there is a lot of negativity around her and this book. But Miché is solid and she can handle it.
“The strongest message I’d like people to take away after they’ve read Miché’s story is to withhold judgement,” she said.