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Woman bailed in dramatic S.African baby-snatching case

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 50-year-old woman was arrested last week after pupils noticed a remarkable likeness between a 17-year-old final year student and a younger girl who started attending the same school this year and turned out to be her biological sister.

DNA tests confirmed that the older girl is the daughter of Celeste and Morne Nurse, who was snatched from Cape Town’s Groote Schuur hospital as a three-day-old baby named Zephany in April 1997.

The kidnapped baby is now a few weeks away from her 18th birthday 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.

The mother, Celeste Nurse, has said that when she meets the alleged kidnapper, she will “thank her for taking care of my daughter”, despite the pain of the past 17 years.

The father, Morne Nurse, told reporters outside the courtroom in Cape Town: “Look, the only hope I had came alive and that’s all I can say.

“I’m over the moon, I’m very happy, extremely happy. My daughter is back and that is it.”

Zephany, who had been renamed by her new family and cannot be publicly identified because of her age, is now living with a social worker until a decision can be made on her future.

The suspect, who cannot be named because that would identify the girl, reportedly had a series of miscarriages before allegedly stealing Zephany from the hospital.

She 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.

The woman, who is due back in court on May 29, faces a minimum of five years in jail if convicted of kidnapping — but prosecutors have indicated that they could be open to a plea bargain after consultations with both sides.

Sources close to Zephany, who describe her as mature and confident, have said she does not want to testify against the woman whom she believed for so long was her mother.

She reportedly has said she wants a normal life with the love and care of both sets of parents — and to be able to complete her schooling and go to the final year dance.

In a statement read on her behalf by a lawyer earlier this week, she said:”I want to say thank you to all the people who supported me through this, for continuously praying and never giving up on looking for me.

“Under the circumstances I am doing fine.”

Morne Nurse said he and his wife had been in contact with Zephany and she was “very happy”.

Asked whether she had not been torn apart by the discovery that she had been kidnapped, he replied: “Look, she’s broken and we’ll fix it.”

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,” Nurse said. “It was seriously heartbreaking”.

The parents, who later had three more children, have celebrated Zephany’s birthday every year since she was kidnapped, never giving up hope that their first-born would come back to them one day, he said.