Nelesi Boyd has no doubt whatsoever that this is her girl. The fact that 11 years passed before she met her again does nothing to dull the feeling that Eliza Francisco, who she says went missing in 2000, occupied her womb for nine months.
Eliza was six when she disappeared and her funeral followed when the family failed to trace her.
Violet Nkhalango, on the other hand, swears that Eliza Smart, the daughter she bore 24 years ago, is her flesh and blood. She is appalled by the sudden interruption to her life and that of her family by this woman claiming to be Eliza’s biological mother.
Nkhalango hopes that the rugged and dirty child health card bearing her daughter’s birth date, names and series of immunisations will bear her out and strengthen her case.
This feud between the two women, both residents of Machinjiri Township in Blantyre, has been the bone of contention that has taken centre stage around the two families for the past year. Each woman says Eliza is her third born daughter.
At the centre of the dispute is a distraught Eliza, who cannot stand the “intrusive” mother as she calls Boyd. She is disgusted to the point of slapping her at one of the many mediation meetings the two families have held.
In five days, the matter about Eliza’s maternal affiliation is expected to be put to rest following the outcome of a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test done in South Africa that is expected to be unveiled at the Child Justice Court in Blantyre this Friday, January 18.
The court facilitated the process and sought funding from Eye of the Child, a non-governmental organisation, for the DNA test.
Boyd said Eliza was three when she went to live with her paternal grandmother in Mpemba, Blantyre. She said she was only told about her disappearance at the age of six when the girl enrolled at Chisawani Primary School in Mpemba.
“I saw her just before she started school and was told of her disappearance on February 9th 2000. We were told that she was last seen in the company of a woman called Elina Mpondela of Mpemba who admitted to have helped Eliza seek shelter from the rains but claimed to have taken her to a road closer to her home. When the search for Eliza proved futile, Mpondela was tried at Soche but she was acquitted because of lack of evidence,” she said.
Lost but found
She said in 2011, a group of people alerted her that Eliza was schooling at Trinity Anglican Secondary School in Machinjiri. Since she saw her, she has remained positive that she is the Eliza she lost years ago.
Boyd decided to pursue the matter further with the courts. She is currently living with three of her children after losing three others. Boyd hopes Eliza will become her fourth addition to the family.
In an interview on Wednesday, Nkhalango, flanked by a tearful Eliza and her sibling David, told of the misery and uncertainty the issue has brought the family. She cannot describe the anger from the taunts of being labelled a child thief.
“I have been tormented and continue to be from my fellow women each time I am passing by. I have been labelled a witch for stealing and hiding a child for so long. I have already been tried and convicted as a child thief for stealing Eliza. Life has become unbearable and even as I eat and sleep, I feel like a prisoner.
“I am hoping the DNA results will finally free me and accord me a good night’s sleep. I have lost weight considerably and my family has spent a lot travelling to the court and contributing K20 000 (about $58) towards the DNA test.
“I vividly recall a phone call in October 2011 from Trinity Anglican Secondary School where I found a woman in the company of police officers claiming to have lost a child who resembled my daughter,” said Nkhalango.
She said her daughter was born on December 4th 1988 and produced the health card that was issued two days after her birth. She also produced a school register and admission book from Chaweta Primary School showing Eliza Smart on number 149 registered on September 1, 1997.
“This woman claims her daughter disappeared in 2000 while in Standard One. Mine was already in Standard Four by that time. When I was called to the school and met with police and school officials, she eventually apologised and said she might have been misled by people who first saw Eliza and convinced her she was her lost daughter.
“However, a month later, the issue resurfaced when I was summoned to the Child Justice Court with Eliza. Since she was sitting the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, I decided not to bring her along so as not to disturb her and the matter was adjourned to June 2012. This was when my rival decided against a trial but a DNA test to which we both agreed,” said Nkhalango.
She said as part of the process, Eliza was taken to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) to determine her actual age since Boyd said her child was born in 1994.
“We were told that the results showed she should be 18 and above. I know the truth will prevail for me, Eliza and my other five children,” she said.
Eliza recalls how strangers approached her at different times claiming to be her relations even before the matter was brought to court. She said both the young and old claimed to know her and insisted she was one of them.
“I was initially not concerned about the talk because I know people resemble. But then, the school authorities got involved and I was called to the headmaster’s office and asked about my identity. I found it strange but did not let my family know because I thought it would go away. It never did and I was surprised to see my family come to the school with a woman and police wanting to see how I looked.
“Since then, I have been a spectacle for many people claiming to be from Boyd’s family. They kept coming to the school to scrutinise me. The whole saga disturbed my education. I failed my MSCE and even now as I was supposed to be in school to repeat, I cannot go yet because the court dates clash with school. I do not know how I will make up for the lost time,” she said.
She admitted to have hit Boyd out of anger for interrupting her family and school. Eliza later apologised.
Her brother David said the story saddens him as he remembers growing up with Eliza and walking to school together.
“I don’t remember her having lived in Mpemba. She has always been my sister,” he said.