Cape Town – "At least I can build my relationship with my daughter,” the biological mother of kidnapped Zephany Nurse said after the woman who snatched her daughter 19 years ago was found guilty in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday.
Celeste Nurse burst into tears when Judge John Hlophe convicted the 51-year-old woman of kidnapping, fraud, and contravening the Children’s Act. The verdict came just over a year after she was arrested and the now 18-year-old girl was found in her care.
Overwhelmed, Nurse had few words as she left the court with her fiancé.
“I am happy,” she said.
Zephany’s biological father, Morne Nurse, had no words.
“We are just glad this woman is locked up,” a relative said.
Celeste Nurse's mother and Zephany's biological grandmother, Marilyn Francis, said after crying about her missing grandchild for years, they were happy the “Lord gave our child back”.
“I feel sorry for [the accused]. She also felt like a mother to that child,” she said.
Forgave the accused
Francis said she forgave the accused. “She is going to jail. Prison for a woman at that age is not a good place. But this is justice.”
In an interview with News24 before the verdict was handed down, the accused said the 17 years and 10 months she spent raising the girl had been the happiest of her life.
Her husband, who also cannot be named as it may lead to the teenager’s current identity being revealed, said Zephany still considers the accused her mother. He continued to refer to her as his daughter.
She is living with him at their Lavender Hill home.
The accused maintained that the child was handed to her 19 years ago by a woman helping her with her infertility problems, who told her the baby’s biological mother did not want her.
On Thursday, the husband said Zephany had told him to wish his wife luck and give her a kiss.
Both said they wanted the child’s biological parents to be part of her life.
Build a relationship
“I have encouraged her to build a relationship with them. They are her birth parents. We don’t want to stand in the way of that,” he said.
The accused nodded in agreement, and said she was sorry for what they had been through.
“I am glad they found her. She is a wonderful child. I am proud of how she turned out.”
She said she was not sorry for taking the baby when she was apparently handed to her.
“What I am sorry for is that [Zephany] found out about it this way. I love her and if she wants me, I will always be in her life. I will always be her mother.”
The biological family had bonded with Zephany, Francis said. She would grow out of her connection to the accused.
“Blood is thicker than water. She will definitely come back. That lady was her mother for 18 years. It’s not easy for a child to lose her mother.”
Hlophe, delivering his verdict, said there was overwhelming evidence that the woman, who had suffered a miscarriage four months before the kidnapping, snatched the infant while her mother slept in the maternity ward of Groote Schuur Hospital on 30 April 1997.
She registered Zephany as her biological child at the Malmesbury home affairs office, and lied to both her husband and the girl that she had given birth to her.
Sentencing will take place on May 30.