Cape Town, Mar 6 – A woman charged with stealing a newborn baby from its sleeping mother 17 years ago was granted bail by a South African court Friday in a case of wrenching emotional complexity and coincidence.
The kidnapped baby is now a few weeks away from her 18th birthday and in her final year of high school after reportedly being raised with love and kindness by the 50-year-old accused woman and her husband, who she believed were her real parents.
The biological parents of the baby they named Zephany — and whose birthday they marked every year of her absence — have told reporters their joy at finding her overwhelms desire for revenge.
Zephany, who had been renamed by her new family and cannot be publicly identified, is now living with a social worker until a decision can be made on her future.
The woman whom she believed to be her mother was freed on R5,000 (less than $500) bail on condition that she does not contact potential state witnesses — who include her husband and Zephany.
She faces a minimum of five years in jail if convicted of kidnapping, but prosecutors indicated that they could be open to a plea bargain after consultations with both sides.
Zephany’s biological parents have said there would be no pressure on the girl to live with them.
“I want what she wants — whatever she thinks is best for her will be fine by us,” Celeste Nurse has said.
The 50-year-old suspect, who cannot be named because that would identify the girl, had reportedly had a series of miscarriages before allegedly stealing Zephany from her mother at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town three days after her birth in April 1997.
She was arrested last week after an astonishing coincidence saw the stolen girl attending the same school as one of her biological sisters.
Pupils noticed a remarkable likeness between the 17-year-old final year student and her younger sister, Cassidy, who started at the school this year.
When Cassidy told her parents about the girl and they saw the likeness for themselves, they called the police.
DNA tests confirmed that she was Zephany.
Without knowing it, the Nurse family had been living within a couple of kilometres of their kidnapped daughter.
“All the time she has been right under my nose,” the father said.
“It was seriously heartbreaking”.
“Emotions are running very high in my family, it’s actually good emotions,” he said.