We open at a birthday party in South Africa. There are decorations, family members and even a birthday cake. But this is no ordinary celebration.
The family, the Kumalo’s, are commemorating their eldest daughter’s 17th birthday — their eldest daughter, who has been missing since she was abducted as a baby.
Netflix’s original African series, Blood & Water, is as captivating and troubling. The story is one that would be a parent’s worst nightmare. The most distressing thing of all? It was inspired by a true story.
The six-part series centres around 16-year-old Puleng Khumalo (Ama Qamata) and the search for her older sister. Transferring to an elite school for overachievers, the fictional Parkhurst College, Puleng meets a fellow student — Fikile “Fiks” Bhele (Khosi Ngema), whom she suspects is her long-lost sibling.
The creators of the series, claim that the storyline has similarities to the true-crime case. It isn’t billed as a “true story”, but the similarities are very real.
We take a look at the story that inspired the series.
The real-life case of Miché Solomon A.K.A Zephany Nurse
In April 1997, a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform walked out of a Cape Town hospital holding a three-day-old baby.
The “nurse” had taken the infant from the maternity ward while her mother lay sleeping and it wasn’t until 17-years later that the baby, now teenager, discovered the truth about her past.
The day Miché Solomon began her final year at school in 2015, her friends and students told her about a new girl who was three years younger, but looked identical to her, named Cassidy Nurse.
While she didn’t really think much of it, it wasn’t until she met Cassidy, that something instantly clicked.
“I almost felt like I knew her,” she told the BBC during an interview in 2019. “It was so scary – I couldn’t understand why I was feeling like this.”
The two girls became fast friends, even calling each other “sis” and would even joke that they had been siblings in “another life”.
It wasn’t until the girls took a selfie together, that their friends questioned if Miché had been adopted — she insisted she hadn’t.
Taking the selfie home, Cassidy showed her parents who then asked their daughter to see if her new friend was born on April 30, 1997. A fact, which turned out to be true.
A few weeks passed, and Miché was asked to go to the headmaster’s office where two social workers were waiting for her.
The social workers told the teenager about a three-day-old baby who had been abducted 17-years-earlier, Zephany Nurse, who had never been found and there was evidence to suggest that she was that child.
Miché explained that she was born at a hospital 20-minutes away — a detail that was on her birth certificate, however, they told her there was no record of her being born there. She agreed to do a DNA test.
“I had so much belief in the mother who raised me — she would never lie to me, especially about who I am and where I come from,” she said during the interview. “So my mind was made up that the DNA test was going to be negative.”
The test results proved that Miché was in fact, Zephany Nurse.
After finding out the truth, and her mother, Lavona Solomon’s arrest, she was told she was unable to go back home and was put into a safe house until her 18th birthday.
Her father, Michael, was questioned by police in front of her and recalled the “stress in his face”. They wanted to know if he was part of the kidnapping scheme, he denied it and no evidence was found to suggest he knew. He was then released.
According to Michael, his wife had been pregnant and concealed a miscarriage, before faking the remainder of her pregnancy.
The Nurse family (husband and wife were now divorced) on the other hand, had never lost hope, still searching for their daughter for 17-years and just like the series, they held a birthday party for her every year.
The most disturbing factor was that their daughter had grown up only 5km away and as a child, Miché would play soccer on the field opposite the Nurse’s household.
After almost two decades, Miché was returned to her family.
During Lavona’s trial, the Nurse’s watched on as she denied any wrongdoing. She said that she had been offered a baby by a lady named Sylvia who had been administring her fertility treatment and had been told that the baby had belonged to a teen who didn’t want the child anymore.
However, a witness was able to pick Lavona in an identity parade.
In 2016, Lavona was sentenced to 10 years in jail for kidnapping, fraud and violating the Children’s Act.
In 2018, Miché visited her mum in prison.
“I told her, ‘By knowing I’m not your blood — that I actually belong to someone else, and that you’ve robbed them of possibilities and changed my whole destiny — hurts me. How am I supposed to believe your word when you’ve lied to me, saying that I am your child? You broke your trust with me. You are going to have to come clean if you want to have a relationship with me,” she said during the BBC interview. “And she said, ‘One day, I will tell you.’ She still says that she didn’t do it, but I think she did.”
Even though she had reunited with her biological family after she turned 18, Miché decided to move back in with her father, Michael, because it was her “home” and admitted the struggles she had forming a bond with the Nurse’s.
Miché still visits Lavona in prison and has chosen to keep the name she was given, rather than the one given at birth.
“I think I hated Zephany in the beginning,” she said during the interview.
“She came with such force, such an uninvited invitation, so much suffering and so much pain.”
Blood and Water is streaming now on Netflix.
You can also read the chilling true story in the book Zephany: Two mothers. One daughter by Joanne Jowell.