I always knew she would come back - Zephany's biological dad

Morne Nurse outside the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24)
Morne Nurse outside the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Cape Town - When Celeste Nurse gave birth to her second daughter, she tied a string around her arm to help her identify her baby out of fear that she too would be snatched, she told the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

"I don't trust anyone," the mother of four testified during sentencing proceedings of the woman convicted of kidnapping he first baby girl from Groote Schuur Hospital in April 1997.

She recalled her daughter Cassidy hiding in a clothing store once on a shopping trip. When she realised that the girl was missing, she "almost got a panic attack".

Zephany's father Morne Nurse agreed that they had become overprotective of their other three children.

"Their upbringing was not normal. They never had freedom. [Zephany's kidnapping] affected our parenting," he told the court.

For months after her baby girl was kidnapped, Celeste spoke to a photo of Zephany she kept in a baby carrier to help her deal with the emotional trauma.

'I always knew she would come back'

"At night when I heard a cat crying, I would tell Morne 'Gaan kyk!' Cats sound just like babies," she said.

"We would hold placard demonstrations and celebrate her birthday every year. I used to stop mothers and ask if can see their babies [to see if it was her]."

Morne burst into tears when he spoke of his hope that Zephany would be found.

"I always knew she would come back, I just didn't know when."

Morne and Celeste divorced last year, shortly before Zephany was confirmed to have been attending the same school as Cassidy.

The kidnapping put severe strain on their marriage, she said.

Hoax calls, false leads

"Morne blamed me. He asked why I was sleeping. I told him I didn't know someone was going to come and take her.

"After a few months I couldn't take it anymore. I tried to take my own life."

For more than a decade, the family was plagued by hoax calls and false leads, Celeste testified.

"In 2009, a woman contacted us and said she thinks she knows where my daughter is. She wanted R500 000 before she would tell us [her information]. That also led to nothing."

Morne said he didn't currently have a relationship with Zephany.

Celeste used to see Zephany every second weekend, but this has now decreased to about once a moth.

Strained relationship

"When I saw her the first time and I looked at her face, she looked just like she did when she was a baby," she recalled.

"I said: 'Here you are'. It was overwhelming."

They currently have a strained relationship, and Celeste declined to tell the court the reason for this.

The kidnapper maintained throughout her trial that she got the baby from a woman called Sylvia, who had been giving her fertility treatment in 1997 after she had miscarried.

Sylvia apparently arranged for the baby to be handed to her at the Wynberg train station without her prior knowledge, she claimed.

Celeste said Zephany once asked her if she had given her away, and she had replied that she would never have done that.

No visits

The teenager was sent to a place of safety after the kidnapper's arrest. She however opted to move back to the home in which she lived and currently resides with the man who raised her.

"To her, they [the kidnapper and her family] are everything," she said.

The man who raised her has not tried to stand in the way of their relationship, Celeste told the court.

"Zephany says he would tell her, 'phone your mom, phone your dad'. In his own way, he's trying."

Zephany's biological siblings ask why their long lost sister doesn't visit, Celeste said.

She wants nothing but happiness for all her children, Celeste said.

"I want them to have a normal future. I don't know if it will ever [happen]."

No attempts at reconciliation

On March 10, Judge John Hlophe convicted the Steenberg woman of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children's Act. She maintained in her testimony that she had not been at Groote Schuur Hospital on the day Nurse was kidnapped in 1997.

The woman was arrested in February 2015 after the teen’s true identity came to light when Cassidy, who is four years younger, told her parents that a girl in matric at her school bore a striking resemblance to her and her parents.

DNA tests later confirmed the teenager was Zephany.

Celeste told the court there had been no attempt at reconciliation by the kidnapper, except for an apology given by her to the biological family through the media and when she took to the stand during cross examination. Celeste had not been in court that day.

"I want her to look me in the eye and tell me she is sorry," Celeste said.

Proceedings resume on Tuesday.

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