Cape Town - Family and neighbours of Lavona Solomon, the woman who kidnapped baby Zephany Nurse more than two decades ago, gave her a warm welcome after she spent seven years imprisoned and was released on parole on Saturday.
For the first time since her arrest, her family have broken their silence, sharing their relief and excitement on having the former machinist back home.
But for Solomon, among the smiles and hugs is sadness returning to an empty home which was in disarray.
Her home was once her sanctuary for herself, her “daughter” Miche (Zephany) and husband, Michael.
According the friends and family, Michael has now entered into a new relationship and Solomon was served with divorce papers while imprisoned at Worcester Female Prison.
When approached for comment by Independent Media on no longer being with Lavona and on her now being parole, Michael said he was not ready to speak.
Ahead of Lavona’s arrival, neighbours said Miche moved out of the Solomon’s home in Seawinds late on Thursday night where she has been living for the past seven years.
Solomon’s relatives said they had been concerned about her sharing a house with Miche and did not want her to breach any conditions or cause any frictions.
“Miche has been living in Lavona’s house since Lavona was arrested,” said a relative who asked not to be identified. “The Parole Board knew that Miche lived at that address and they knew that Lavona would be coming home.
“Lavona shares the property with one of her sisters and the sister’s daughter was raised with Miche like sisters. The family are excited to have her back home. Michael and Lavona are divorced and he has moved out.”
At Solomon’s home on Friday morning, the street was abuzz with jovial neighbours who looked like they were preparing for Christmas, with windows, floors and cupboards being washed.
Solomon’s sister’s said she was not prepared to speak with the media.
“We are not ready to speak and neither is she,” said one of Lavona’s sister’s, while the others were attending to her at the back of the property.
The neighbours welcomed her back into the community with open arms and are prepared to help her rebuild her life.
Rachel Waterloo has been Solomon’s neighbour and work colleague in the machinist industry for decades.
“What she did ... we all make mistakes,” she said. “But God knows our hearts. She has always been a good-natured person. She was a very blessed woman. She never sent that child (Zephany) to the shop, she sent our children to the shop.
“Today, I am proud that she has come out of prison, no matter what people are saying. People can talk but if they do not know her in person, they should not add their comments. It does not matter that people are talking behind her back, we all have our crosses to bear.”
Another neighbour, Bernice January agreed.
“I have been her next door neighbour for years and I am glad that God has given her a second chance to pick up the pieces,” she said. “She needs to leave all of that negativity behind and focus on positivity and on God. She was there for me in times of trouble and when I was sick. She sat her years inside prison and that is the past.”
Neighbour Glynnis Martin said they rallied together to clean Solomon’s home after Miche moved out of the premises to give her a surprise..
Miche’s biological father, Morne Nurse, said the family were unable to speak about Solomon’s release due to an agreement made with another media institution.
“We cannot go against that, it is going to be a big interview with one entity,” he said.
Solomon’s release has been met with happiness and unhappiness in the community she has returned to. Community leader and activist Clive Jacobs said Solomon’s sentence was not harsh enough for the family bond she had destroyed.
“She knew what was doing when she kidnapped that baby because she planned her crime so well,” he said.
“She should never have been released so early and the house she will be living in will not be proper for her rehabilitation because Lavender Hill is crime infested.”
Western Cape Missing Children’s founder, Candice van der Rheede, who works on kidnapping cases, said Solomon’s story was controversial because she did not abuse or harm the child though she had committed a crime.
“This case has special circumstances and merits, there was a bond formed between this woman and the child,” she said. “She kidnapped this child to raise her as her own and not to harm her. The circumstances are different to other cases we see today.
“She did a good job raising this child but what she did by taking this child was wrong. She did not hurt the child, as many children who were abducted for all the wrong reasons.”
Miche did not respond to queries, but via her Facebook account she shared a photograph of herself in her wedding dress and that of her mother, Celeste Nurse, in hers.
She wrote in another post: “Thank you Lord for the cord has now been cut.”
Candice van Reenen, the spokesperson for the Department of Correctional Services in the province said Solomon's parole conditions are that she will be subjected to high risk monitoring, movement restricted to the magisterial district, not allowed to change addresses without permission, prohibited from using alcohol or drugs, must not commit crime and may not engage the media.
They said the Head of Community Corrections (HoCC) may also supplement / amend the above-state conditions according to the offender’s risk profile.
There is no indication whether she is allowed to be in contact with Miche or the Nurse family.
Solomon was convicted of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars in 2016.