Zephany's family rakes in cash for interviews

08 March 2015 - 02:00 By NASHIRA DAVIDS

The Nurse family says the money paid to them for interviews detailing the kidnapping of their daughter Zephany 17 years ago will be spent wisely.

Morne and Celeste Nurse were miraculously reunited with their child two weeks ago.

She was snatched at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital in April 1997.

The UK press has dubbed the teenager South Africa's "Maddie McCann", after the three-year-old girl who mysteriously disappeared in Portugal in 2007.

It is not on the same scale - but Zephany's story has attracted international attention.

The Sunday Times has established that thousands of rands have been paid to the couple by foreign press.

In response to questions by the Sunday Times this week, lawyer Heidi van der Meulen, on behalf of the Nurses, said in a statement: "Any money that has been generated will be invested for our ongoing costs such as therapy for our children, schooling and accommodating Zephany if she ultimately lives with us."

Zephany is in protective custody and the Western Cape social development department has started a "complex reunification process" between the teen and her biological parents.

The Nurses said a bond was already being established, especially between Zephany and her younger sister Cassidy, who happened to attend the same school as Zephany.

When the 14-year-old met Zephany, she was struck by their uncanny resemblance, and eventually the truth surfaced.

"[The girls] have been very close from the time that Cassidy started at the school this year. It was quite amazing to see the bond that developed right from the start between a matric [pupil] and a Grade 8 [pupil]," the parents said.

"Cassidy called Zephany 'Tite' - our way of calling an older sister - and Zephany calls Cassidy 'my baby girl'. This happened long before the DNA tests and hasn't changed."

After a 50-year-old woman was arrested on February 26 in connection with Zephany's kidnapping, an emotional Morne told the Sunday Times that there was talk of a possible book deal. However, Van der Meulen said such a deal was not "on the table at present".

Since being reunited with Zephany, the Nurse family are jubilant, but they have been struggling with the attention.

Van der Meulen said Cassidy left school this week after the press waited near the premises to "catch sight of her".

The whole family, including Cassidy and two other siblings, are in need of counselling to understand the events.

"As I understand it, Zephany is receiving counselling. They [her siblings] haven't yet; they will need to and they [the family] are well aware of it. They have been told by social welfare that it is in the pipeline," said the lawyer.

After Zephany's disappearance, Morne and Celeste's relationship had taken "strain". There were rumours of a possible divorce, but this week the couple dispelled this.

"We are in a much better place emotionally than we have been for a long time."

And they have forgiven the woman who allegedly kidnapped their child.

"We have no hard feelings for her - we have forgiven her already. All we ever wanted for all our children is that they were loved, kept safe and warm. It is such a relief that she was cared for. Having met Zephany, we are so proud of her. She is beautiful inside and out and so intelligent. We can see that she has been loved and cared for."

Celeste said should she meet the woman one day, she would want to hug her and say: "Thank you for my beautiful daughter."

The woman, who cannot be named to protect Zephany's identity, has been released on R5000 bail. According to strict bail conditions, she may not contact Zephany. That includes sending her messages on Facebook or WhatsApp. She is not allowed to send someone to give Zephany a message from her.

The woman's 27-year-old son, the man Zephany calls her brother, said he could not wait to see his mother.

"When I heard she was released, I was so happy. Now I pray. for my sister to come home. If she doesn't, I will respect whatever decision she makes because I love her."