Lieutenant Colonel Mike Barkhuizen was the final state witness to take the stand on Thursday in the kidnapping case of Zephany Nurse.
The investigating officer in the case told the Western Cape High Court, in aggravation of sentence, that Zephany Nurse had been the 698th person reported missing in 1997.
The three-day-old infant was snatched from her mother’s bedside at Groote Schuur Hospital on April 30, 1997. Her true identity was only discovered almost two decades later.
The woman who raised her, and has been convicted of kidnapping, fraud and contravention of the Children’s Act, cannot be named to protect the identity she gave Zephany Nurse when she took her as her own.
Barkhuizen, who has been a policeman for 42 years, is currently stationed at the Directorate for Priority Crime (the Hawks). He testified that all crimes reported in South Africa are registered on a system, and each type of crime is allocated a code.
He was able to draw from that database and present kidnapping statistics in the Western Cape to the court. He said that the cases did not differentiate between males and females, or adults and children, however.
In 1997, he said 155 children were reported missing, 148 were recovered, and seven remain missing.
He said there had been six cases of babies being kidnapped from hospitals in the Western Cape between 1997 and 2016.
After the kidnapping of Zephany Nurse, she was registered as a missing person on a database for missing people. She was the 698th person reported missing that year.
Barkhuizen said the areas where the kidnappings occurred varied – they included the Hottentots Holland Hospital, Tygerberg Hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital, Worcester Hospital and Mitchells Plain District Hospital.
He told the court that kidnapping cases have become a priority since 1997, but that at the time there were no specialised units investigating.
“Technology today plays a larger role and detectives have better facilities at their disposal. In 1997 they were reliant on local newspapers to publish something, whereas today the investigation of such a case is much more intensive. NGOs such as the Pink Ladies also assist. Its also easier to arrange publicity. The investigations have changed for the better.”
Zephany Nurse’s case had been publicised in newspapers every year on her birthday “to broadcast the fact that this missing child was still being sought”.
The accused in the case was granted bail in a lower court shortly after her arrest in February last year. During sentencing proceedings, allegations have emerged that she has had contact with Zephany, which would have been in conflict with her bail conditions.
But, Barkhuizen testified that the allegations had been followed up and “there was never direct evidence that she was making contact. The source of the allegations came from the Nurse family. I visited both residences, where the child was staying and where the accused was staying”.
Bail was revoked in March this year when Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe found the Lavender Hill woman guilty of kidnapping.
A probation officer was also called to testify to clarify several factors in the report. Defence lawyer Reaz Khan said she had “minimised” the suffering of the accused.
But, Yumnah Rinquest said in her report that the accused had shown no remorse and taken no responsibility for committing the crime. She recommended a sentence of direct imprisonment.
In documents, drawn up by Barkhuizen and handed into the court, several incidents of kidnapping cases and sentences were detailed.
These included a case that happened on January 1, 2015. A 12-day-old baby boy was kidnapped from his cot next to his mother’s bed at Groote Schuur Hospital.
A cleaner, Ntobekhaya Mgqaza, was arrested at her home in Khayelitsha the next day and the child was reunited with his biological mother. Mgqaza was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to five years behind bars, with two years conditionally suspended for five years.
In another case, on 24 July 2009, Siphesihle Ncumani, a two-week-old baby boy was kidnapped from the Tygerberg Hospital while his mother lay in a coma in another ward.
Bulelwa Xeza was arrested the following month and the baby was reunited with his mother. Xeza was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 10 years in jail, of which five years were suspended.
Final arguments in the Zephany Nurse trial have been set down for Thursday next week, August 11.
Western Cape High Court Judge President ordered that the evidence of Zephany Nurse, who testified in camera earlier this week, cannot be re-introduced in heads of argument.
“It will be food for journalists,” he said.
– African News Agency (ANA)