||12 April 2009 07:00
Nicola de Chaud
Devi Sankaree Govender
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
On the 20th December 2002 Jennifer Disemelo gave birth prematurely by caesarean section to a baby girl at what was then the Johannesburg Hospital.
Jennifer Disemelo: "I went to the operation and then they said I have got a girl. My baby was a girl. I was so surprised and she was so small."
Five days later Jennifer was discharged.
Jennifer: "So I asked from the doctor, When I go home, what about my baby?' He said, Your baby is still here - [you need to] wait.' So I must leave her at hospital."
Jennifer says she left the baby in the care of the hospital and returned to her home in the Ivory Park informal settlement.
Some months later, across Johannesburg, another mother brought home a baby girl.
Lynne Nobel: " I can't tell you what that feeling was like, bringing my baby home. It was just the most incredible thing. It is a feeling that I'd think any mother can describe as unexplainable'."
When Lynne Noble, a single nursery school teacher, found out she could not have children of her own, she decided to adopt.
[Carte Blanche 2003] Lynne: "My life revolves around her. There is no... we come home together, we go to work together, we go everywhere together. There is just no separation here at all."
Lynne first put herself forward as an adoptive parent early in 2003.
Lynne: "I wanted to be a mom to a little girl or a little boy that needed a home."
She went through a rigorous screening via Sue Kravits - a private social worker.
Sue Kravits (Social worker): "I think we did a very detailed assessment, particularly because it is a single person.
Sue matched Lynne with a baby girl from TLC - a place of safety much like this one.
Sue: "And Bryony, which was her birth name, became available for adoption because she had been abandoned and that was the information that was given to us at the time."
Lynne: "The hospital, after 14 days they declare the childe abandoned' if there's been no visitations. I have the records that there were no visitations and she was declared abandoned and she was sent to TLC."
According to the law, a child is considered abandoned after three months. Demi had been in the care of the state for four when she was matched with Lynne. Her new mom was legally entitled to take her home while the adoption papers were being finalised.
When Demi was almost six months old, Lynne was told that the child's biological mother had come back to fetch her.
Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): "How did you feel when you got that call?"
Lynne: "I felt empty, I felt... it was almost as if I needed to start mourning her. The thought of losing her was just, I couldn't..."
Jennifer: "They told me I had abandoned the baby."
Jennifer says she had been seriously ill and wasn't able to fetch her baby for several months.
Jennifer: "When I found out I couldn't believe it. Every time I think about the baby I get sick. I didn't understand what was happening."
Lynne: "And that's when the whole thing started that I was then given a choice. Do you want to take this further or are you going to let it go?"
Derek: "How did they trace Demi?"
Lynne: "She obviously went back to the hospital where she assumed Demi would still be... six months later."
Jennifer: "I was sure the baby was safe because I spoke to my sister and asked her to go and check on the baby in hospital. But when my sister went to the hospital they never let her see the baby."
Jennifer insists her sister went to visit. The hospital has no record of those visits.
Jennifer: "I did not abandon my other children and I have not abandoned anyone."
At the time Lynne proposed an open adoption.
Lynne: "So I said to my social worker, Can we not perhaps present her an alternative where she could see the child anytime if she leaves the child with me?'"
Jennifer: "They said to me, [Let's do] an open adoption.' I said, I can't get an open adoption because I don't want to visit her just only, I just want my baby back.'"
A court battle began in 2003.
Jennifer: "There was no question about fighting. There was no decision in my mind that would ever have led me down the route of saying, I give up.' I would never ever have chosen that path."
Demi was placed in Lynne's care pending the outcome of the case. The alternative was to return her to TLC. Jennifer was not in a financial position to look after the child herself, but wanted to keep the baby in the family.
Sue: "She suggested that her sister would be suitable to adopt."
Jennifer's sister Regina Ramodia is a school teacher living in Zeerust. She was screened and approved as an alternative adoptive parent and Jennifer signed consent for her to adopt Demi - Regina already looks after Jennifer's two youngest.
Regina Ramodia (Jennifer's sister): "I took them the time she was sick. She grew them up, struggling, doing whatever she can for her children. How can she not be able to look after the last baby? We are not used to throw the children away or to give somebody a child for good. No, I can give you a child to stay with you for two years, three years, but I will visit that baby -that child- and then the time I want her back, I just take her. It is our culture."
The matter between biological aunt, Regina Ramodia and Lynne Nobel in the case of Demi Disemelo became one of the most drawn-out in South African adoption history.
Fiona Mchlachlan (Lawyer): "I think we had something like 12 to 15 postponements at court before the enquiry even started."
Lynne's lawyer Fiona Mchlachlan took this case on in 2003.
Fiona: "You know, with legal processes sometimes there are lengthy delays... this one really went on."
Regina: "I was just doing this [signals back and forwards'] every day."
Lynne: "It has been postponed time and time again because of their misconduct, their inability to prepare themselves."
Jennifer: "Going up and down to court was a waste of time and money."
Demi was 19 months old when a magistrate finally handed down a judgement.
She'd been living with Lynne for over a year and had never met her biological family.
Lynne: "Look I am scared, make no mistake. I am very scared because I know at the end of the day I can't fight the system. I can't let her go... not to someone who cannot look after her."
Magistrate Mkhari of the Randburg Court ordered that Demi be returned to Jennifer.
He dismissed the applications of both Lynne and Regina to adopt Demi and gave Jennifer permission to take her baby to a new life in Ivory Park.
Lynne: "It's a joke. It's a real joke. To me, that is just, he has failed us in every respect. The mother has nothing to do with this case. She's signed her consent. She gave the child up for adoption to her sister. What the hell is he doing giving this child back to the biological mother?"
In his judgement, the Magistrate Mkhari said:
"If the mother of the child was sick, as a result she could not visit the hospital, and the social worker did not do enough to trace her whereabouts... It can never be said under those circumstances that she abandoned the child..."
Fiona: "He gave a judgement which was impossible in terms of the adoption section of the act because essentially he had two applicants in front of him, Lynne Noble and the aunt, Mrs Ramodia, and he had awarded the child back to its mother which was impossible in terms of the legislation."
Jennifer: "I was very happy. I called my family, my aunts and uncles. I told them we'd won and we all prepared for a big party."
Lynne: "I feel that justice has not been served. I have not abused this child. I have not neglected her and I have not, certainly not, abandoned her. It's not going to happen and I don't care Derek what I have to do, this is not going to happen..."
Lynne lodged an urgent appeal with the High Court.
Lynne: "It's my way of showing how much I love this child. It's my way of telling Demi that there's no ways I would ever have given her up and if I ever had to give her up that it wasn't of choice and it wasn't something that I wanted to do. And it wasn't something that it was just too much and gave up... there's no such thing as too much' when it comes to a child."
Regina: "I don't know why she'd doing this to us because we were given the baby."
Fiona: "I ask myself what kind of a parent is she? She must feel for me because the baby is mine."
Lynne: "She gave up her rights to the child. Why are we reinstating them? Why?"
They waited for two long years for a court date. The High Court then threw out the appeal and ordered a review because the original judgement was legally flawed.
By then Demi was almost four years old.
Lynne: "You know, it's two years of not knowing what the outcome is going to be. Its two years of not knowing whether she was going to remain with me and its two years of an extended mothering that I had of a child that I wasn't sure I was going to keep."
The review date was set for September 2006
Lynne: "We went on review and in review no one pitched from the biological side - not even a representative or an attorney or anything."
So the judge granted the adoption in Lynne's favour by default. Demi was finally hers.
Lynne: "I actually didn't... it didn't dawn on me until much later. And I was telling people that it was over and that I'd won. And that I could clearly say that Demi was mine."
Regina: "We arrived at court at about 11 o'clock, but we were inside attending the wrong court."
Lynne: "And then at 2 o'clock I got a call to say we all have to go back to court."
Fiona: "So they called us back to court and retracted the order. As you can imagine, Lynne, the adoptive mother, just about had a nervous breakdown and landed in hospital that night."
Lynne: "I didn't know what to do. I just felt that everybody was against me."
The judge decided that the evidence before her was old and ruled that they all go back to the Magistrate's Court and start the entire process from scratch.
Devi Sankaree Governder (Carte Blanche presenter): "Why did you keep fighting over the years because it would have been so easy for you to have given it up?
Regina: "To give up? Even some of the people they said, Why?' and I said, I love my sister, I love her just as my children.'"
It's for the sake of family that Regina and Jennifer are determined to bring Demi home.
Devi: Demi's brother and sister who live here with you - how do you explain it to them?"
Regina: "Well, the time I was always going to Jo'burg they were asking, Are you going to bring the baby back?' It's painful because if you lost a baby by death it's better, but you can't lose the baby while the baby is still alive."
Fiona: "Where the system failed the child was when the High Court became involved in the picture. There was going to be no advantage referring us back to the Magistrate's Court to rehear the entire thing. There was going to be no new evidence. The only thing that was going to happen was that the child was going to get older and more and more bonded to Lynne Noble with whom she was living."
By 2006 Demi was living with Lynne and her new partner, Ian.
Lynne: "And I suppose two years is enough time for me to, or for both of us, to just get on with our lives and pretend nothing was going on. But I think it has had an effect on the relationship. It certainly, there's this internal emotional aspect of my fears versus the fear of what's going to happen to her and the fear of her becoming aware of it all."
At five years old, Demi is beginning to ask questions about the family she has never met.
Lynne: "I have tried my best to be as unbiased as possible, just explaining the facts. You know, that there is another lady out there who wants you back... she gave birth to you and that, in turn, has made Demi exceptionally fearful."
Ian Rogers: "I've actually witnessed the child becoming or responding to her mother's stress and it is brought about by the very nature of the stress of the legal situation."
Lynne: "I think there's been far too much focus on the biological family as opposed to the child's best interests. The law categorically states the child's best interests are paramount and what the child needs in this matter is closure."
In 2007, the State appointed Fatima Leaher to represent Demi.
Fatima Leaher (Legal Aid): "I am binded by what I consider to be in the best interests of the child."
In her opinion it is in Demi's best interests to build a relationship with her biological family before an adoption order is granted.
Fatima: "There's a curiosity from the child's side that has to be managed affectively. That curiosity is about her biological family. It is about, Where is my family', Who are they?' And that is also of critical importance in terms of the development of her own identity."
Fatima recommended a period of foster parenting. In that time Demi would stay with Lynne and Ian, while the biological family could have supervised visits.
Lynne: "I think personally foster care perpetuates Demi's current insecure situation. There's no closure, there's no security offered, but I just think, How much more... how much more damage are we going to keep on doing?' It just needs to finish. It just needs to come to an end. This child is due to go to school in a year's time and she doesn't need this kind of drama in her life. She doesn't need it."
It's January 2009 and six-year-old Demi wakes up to her first day at school.
After almost six years the adoption case of Demi Disemelo has finally been brought to a close. Lynne Noble received a forty page judgement which has changed their lives.
Lynne: "And I just froze... completely froze. My attorney said, All you need to know is that the adoption has been granted to you.'"
In her judgment the magistrate so and so of the Children's Court said that:
Jennifer Disemelo "is not motivated by the best interests of the child" and that "evidence supports that it would not be in Demi's best interests to be removed from Ms Noble. To remove her ... would be severely traumatic and detrimental."
Lynne: "My greatest wish for her though, as her mom, is that she'd have the benefit of both moms."
Devi: "Despite everything that has happened?"
Lynne: "I don't want her not to meet Jennifer. And I don't want Jennifer to ever think or feel that I took her away."
Jennifer: "I don't blame Noble because I'm sure she had an adoption order. She was on a waiting list. I blame the social worker and the hospital."
Devi: "If you could speak to your child now, what would you say?"
Jennifer: "I am your mother, Jennifer, and I love you. To be truthful it is because of the sickness that we were spirited from each other... that's why you have another mother. I have you in my prayers and under the love of God I trust that one day we will meet."
Lynne: "I can understand how she is feeling and I feel for her, I do. There's no resentment, or hatred, or animosity regarding the biological mother. She has brought me the greatest gift so I could never resent her in any way."
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.