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EXTRACT: I am not Zephany, call me Miché

The kidnapping of baby Zephany Nurse from the cot besides her mother’s hospital bed made headline news. Desperate pleas from her parents to return her safely went unanswered. There was no trace of the baby. For 17 years, on her birthday, the Nurses lit candles and hoped and prayed.

Living not far away from the Nurses, 17-year-old Miché Solomon had just started matric. She had a boyfriend. She had devoted parents. She was thinking about the upcoming school dance and the dress her mother was going to make her. She had no idea that a new girl at her school, who bore an uncanny resemblance to her, and a DNA test would change her life forever.

Miché is now 22. This is her story for the first time in her own words.

I got home on a Sunday night, and the next day I had to go back to school.

My aunty dropped me at school and the principal had to come fetch me by the car because the media was standing outside the school gate. I had to put something over my face because the one camera was so huge that it reached from the traffic light into the school’s property. My teachers tried to chase them away. A lot of kids were staring at me, so much so that I actually thought, Maybe I should just have gone to Stellenbosch to finish my Matric there?!

It was awkward back at school.

I often couldn’t go outside during interval time because you’d see Die Burger or The Voice newspapers there. So I’d sit inside a classroom to avoid the media. I couldn’t even see Cassidy some times because someone was just waiting to snap a picture.

We did spend time together when we could, though, and she started opening up to me even more about her family and her life.

When it got really bad, my friends would sit with me inside.

Sometimes you’d see four news stations parked in front by the school gates, and my friends would say that the huge cameras would come right in front of their faces. So there were times I couldn’t leave.

People were definitely interested – or nosy. They’d say, ‘Oh my word, tell what happened!’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t tell you what happened because the case is still pending and I’m going to need stuff for my testimony.’

I was very aware of lots of people being my ‘friend’, even teachers and staff who would come ask, ‘How are you and how are things going, what’s happening?’ At first I thought it was very kind of them, to be so supportive. But afterwards I realised it’s not actually like that. It’s for gossip. And it became difficult at school when teachers weren’t playing their roles as teachers – the boundaries were too blurred and it wasn’t comfortable – almost as if there wasn’t that same level of respect anymore, in both directions. It started to affect my academics. Yes, I would do my schoolwork and try to focus on that, but I wasn’t as efficient as I used to be.

The one teacher I could really rely on was Sophie Botha, my Afrikaans teacher. The others would be like: ‘We saw this in the newspaper, we saw that in the You magazine.’ I became so drained from it because it was the same old story every time, dirty laundry being spilled. Sophie Botha was the only one whose main concern was: How are you going to handle this?

I did go for counselling for a little while, provided by the state. I saw a state social worker at some place in Constantia. I was a very angry teenager at the time. I felt that what was happening was so unfair! I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for Celeste and Morné’s baggage to follow me. Mostly, I had inner conflict. I still have inner conflict. And I did speak to the state social worker about certain things but we never really got that far. For some reason, I just didn’t feel very comfortable with her. I saw her quite a lot, but I felt that she didn’t really understand.

I don’t know if it’s because she was young and didn’t have much experience in her work, but I just didn’t feel comfortable.

In actual fact, I started to feel really trapped – like too many people are wanting me to do things that they want me to do, and to say things that they want me to say. My whole life was playing out in the news and it was other people’s words all the time. In the newspaper they used words like ‘steel ma’ and they would bring up Lavona’s history of miscarriages and abuse.

They actually interviewed her first husband, and they scrutinised my dad, Michael. They said nasty things about him that are not true. At least I had Ann Skelton to protect my identity, but even she couldn’t shield me from hearing these things about my mommy and my daddy.

My daddy and I were managing at home, but it was not easy.

I remember the one day I woke up in the worst mood ever. And I was yelling at him, ‘Just leave me alone! You’re not my real daddy and you can’t tell me what to do! It’s also because of you all this stuff is happening!’ I said ugly things to him, really ugly things. I’m sure he still remembers it but he’d never hold it
against me.

I was just angry at everyone. I was angry at my dad because he couldn’t do things the way Mommy did them. And it felt like I was left alone to deal with finances and the household. I always had to ask my aunty, ‘Okay, savings account, how do we operate that? How do I run a house?’ I knew from my mom but actually doing it myself was different. And I couldn’t count on my dad to play the part of a mommy. I had to learn how to do the washing. I couldn’t even cook – at the age of seventeen, I hadn’t ever been asked to do those things! In our house, all I was ever asked to do was finish my Matric and go study.

My daddy would be like, ‘You don’t need to do this, we can ask someone to come and clean for you.’ And family did help at times, like coming over to do the laundry when I was writing exams. But I just felt like it all landed on my head.

In a short time, it was my birthday – 30 April. I turned eighteen and legally I could make my own decisions.

My two best friends gave me a special candle with the name ‘Zephany’ on it. They said, ‘We’re not sure what we should call you anymore!’ It was a sweet gesture, you know the cuddly little things that friends do to show they are friends. But I told them: ‘No, you have to call me Miché. Don’t get confused with the two because I’m not her.’

I wasn’t at school the day I found out that friends and family had been talking directly to the press. My cousin called me on my cell phone to say that she herself had spoken to a journalist, and some family members had actually become friends with the journalists. Most of my family were being genuine, just
relating from their personal lives to what has been happening and giving their personal opinions, standing up for my mom.

But one of the journalists had mentioned a particular detail regarding my boyfriend, and my ears pricked up because that was something only my two best friends knew. There was other stuff too – mostly about me partying. The journalists had kept asking, ‘What was Zephany like? What type of a teenager was she?’ and I think my friends got so comfortable with the journalists that they spilled information they shouldn’t.

That kind of thing happened more and more, until eventually I closed my Facebook account. And started to become wary of my friends, not knowing who I could really trust. Towards the end of the year, my one bestie sent me a WhatsApp message saying, ‘We need to catch up.’ Really? Catch up about what?

I decided to cut them out. I didn’t tell them why I stopped communicating, I’m not going to make myself look like a fool. If they want to know, they can ask. And I’ll tell them, ‘I can’t trust you!’ The audacity to think we should still be friends while they know full well that they are giving journalists sensitive
information about me, information that is not meant for others . . .

There was even a rumour that I was pregnant in Grade 11.

That is simply not true. There was also a story that I was dating another guy while I was with my boyfriend . . . Nonsense stories that are none of anyone’s business.

It was like reading about someone’s life story, their drama, and then realising that the person being written about is you!

'Zephany' was written by Joanne Jowell and published by Tafelberg, a division of NB Publishers.

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