CAPE TOWN –– A South African woman has been found guilty of kidnapping a three-day-old baby in 1997.
Police accused her of fraudulently claiming to be the girl’s mother since snatching her from a hospital in Cape Town.
The 51-year-old woman was arrested last year after suspicions were raised when there was a similar-looking girl at the child’s school.
DNA tests then proved that the two girls were sisters, police said.
The kidnapped girl’s biological parents Celeste and Morne Nurse called her Zephany, but the name she grew up with has not been revealed to protect her identity.
The convicted woman, who has been denied bail while she awaits sentencing, has also not been named for similar reasons.
Zephany had been living with the accused, near the Nurse family’s home in the Cape Flats, a mainly working class neighbourhood in Cape Town, when she was identified last year.
The discovery came after one of the Nurse family’s other daughters started going to a local secondary school and noticed a similarity with an older girl.
Nurse told the court that he took the two girls out for lunch and began asking Zephany about her life.
He said that her date of birth matched the day his daughter was kidnapped, and added that a photo he was shown of Zephany’s mother looked nothing like her.
He said he then spent a month gathering evidence before going to the police.
A DNA test showed that he had found his missing daughter.
A nationwide search in 1997 failed to find her.
In her evidence, the accused woman said she believed she had legally adopted the child after her own pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
She said she was handed a newborn baby at a busy railway station by a woman called Sylvia, who cannot be found.
She also said that she had signed adoption papers, but they had been lost.
Giving his verdict, Judge John Hlophe described the defendant’s account as a fairytale and said the “court rejects it with the contempt it deserves”.
The accused told the BBC before the verdict was issued that she was a victim too as she felt she was tricked into taking Zephany.
She also apologized to the Nurse family “for everything they went through”.
In a statement issued through the Centre for Child Law at the weekend, Zephany complained about the way the media had portrayed the accused who she sees as her mother.
“Don’t you think for once that that is my mother? Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with,” she said.
Zephany has chosen to continue living with the man who brought her up as her father.
She also spoke about him in the statement: “How would you feel as a father, desperately broken but still finds the goodness to support his family.”
Before the verdict was announced he told South African media that if his wife was found guilty it would break up a happy family that has been together for 18 years.
Nurse broke down when she testified at the start of the trial.
She said Zephany was her first daughter, and she was 18 when she gave birth to her via a caesarean section at Groote Schuur Hospital, where the world’s first human heart transplant was done in 1967.
She denied giving the accused permission to take her daughter from a ward.
“My baby was crying and I saw a person dressed in maroon clothes standing by the door. She asked if she could pick up the child,” Nurse said.
“I was in pain and under medication. I fell asleep. Next thing I remember is the nurse asking where my child was.
“We ran around looking for the child in every floor of the hospital. The baby was gone. Nowhere to be found. I thought it was a joke,” Nurse said.