Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Pain is the Same...
Madonna's adopted baby's father tells how he was powerless to stop her
By Angella Johnson Last updated at 10:59am on 15th October 2006
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Madonna has come under fire for adopting Yohane Banda's son
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The father of the little boy adopted by Madonna in Malawi has described his feelings of confusion and powerlessness in the face of the singer's determination to take his only surviving child away.
Peasant farmer Yohane Banda, who can barely read or write, admitted he didn't fully understand what was happening when he went to court on Thursday in his best clothes to see for the first and only time the woman who was offering his 13-month-old son David a new life in the West.
All he knew, as he sat in his dirt-stained cotton trousers, a check shirt and his treasured black denim jacket at the High Court in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, was that the slight, blonde woman standing before him in a simple black dress and black knee-high boots was hoping to take his boy away.
Yohane's court ordeal will further intensify criticism that Madonna had flown into the poor African country and used her wealth and celebrity status to try to steamroller authorities into granting a fast-track adoption.
For despite the court issuing an interim custody order, it seems Madonna is yet to start the complicated legal proceedings necessary in Britain to adopt a child.
If she does not complete the procedures, she could face a jail sentence of 12 months.
In Malawi, where the law prohibits adoptions by non-residents, human rights groups have stepped up their campaign to prevent David being taken away.
The charity Malawi's Eye Of The Child will tomorrow seek an injunction opposing the adoption.
Meanwhile Yohane, 31, whose wife Marita, 28, died a week after their son was born, was left to reflect on the confusing events of his day in court with Madonna.
Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, he said: "She was smiling a lot. She told me, 'Your son is very beautiful and he makes me very happy. I promise to take very good care of him.'
"I looked directly into her eyes and said, 'Although I am giving you my son I want you to look after him well as he is the only one I possess. I want you to keep this boy, raise him, educate him - but you have to know he is my son and he is a Malawian.'
"Then she thanked me for surrendering my child into her care. She said: 'I could not have taken him if you had not wholeheartedly consented.'"
The 30-minute court hearing was conducted in English, with Yohane taking part through a translator.
"I sat directly opposite Madonna and we looked at each other face to face throughout the meeting," Yohane said.
"I was looking into her eyes and I could tell from them that she was a good lady."
He confessed he had been nervous and overawed by his surroundings, and bewildered by the speed at which his baby had been put up for adoption.
"It has all been very crazy. Everything has happened so fast. I can't believe what is happening."
But he added: "In court I did understand that I was agreeing to give the baby up for adoption."
Yohane, who left school at 12, said he had not been able to understand the nine-page document written in English which was presented to him in his village home by Reverend Thompson Chipeta, a retired preacher who runs the Home Of Hope Orphan Care Centre in Mchinji, a town near Malawi's Zambian border, where David lived.
Yohane told how David had been in the orphanage since his mother died. The intention was that he would one day return to live at home.
But it appears David was offered for adoption without his father's knowledge when his picture was sent, along with those of 12 other "suitable", boy babies, by e-mail to Madonna.
Yohane said the first he knew about the adoption was on September 30, when two officials from Malawi's Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare came to the village.
He said: "They told me a mzungu (white foreigner) had seen a picture of David and liked him very much.
"They said she wanted to adopt and take him to America. They said that she would give him a better life.
"At first I wasn't very sure. I asked if it meant that I would never see him again.
"They said I would be sent pictures and when David was older he would be able to visit the village."
"My family and I agreed that this was a very good opportunity for David to get an education and grow up healthy.
"There were some minor disagreements about his Malawian culture but we said yes."
Yohane had never heard of Madonna, or her raunchy songs. He was told only that she was "a very nice Christian lady".
It was never explained that Madonna is in fact deeply involved with the Kabbalah sect.
But it is clear that once she arrived in Malawi on October 4, when she hoped to collect David, Yohane felt swept up in what by then appeared to be a relentless process.
He said: "I had taken David to the orphanage because my wife had died and he was sick and we could not care for him. My other two sons had passed away from malaria while they were still young - one was almost three and one just over a year old. When David became very sick I didn't know how to cope.
"I am a single man with no experience of these things. My in-laws, who live in Zambia, did not want him and my extended family is too poor to take him in.
"I was scared he would die like my other children so I took him where he could be looked after properly. I felt very sore in my heart, but I could think of no other way.
"He was one month and seven days old. The orphanage made me sign a letter to show that I was handing him over to their charge, but I suppose deep in my heart I always imagined that when he was better, or I had got another wife, I would go and take him back. I did not think anyone would want to take him away.
"But I was persuaded by Rev Chipeta. He said that I was to hold fast and not waver in my decision.
"He said many people would come to the village and tell me things but that I should go ahead and let the woman have my son - that it was the best thing for David's future."
Even if Yohane had been able to read the documents relating to the proposed adoption, it is possible he would not have understood their legal implications.
A simple man, he spends his days tending a tiny vegetable garden, caring for a handful of scrawny goats and growing maize, which he sells in local markets.
To make extra money he carves wooden handles for hoses, axes and other tools used by subsistence farmers like himself. Around him run ragged children. Everyone here is poor beyond the imagination of most Westerners.
Yohane's 56-year-old mother, Athnet Mwale, explained: "No-one here could take care of David. He needed good milk and nutrition. We are too poor even to properly feed ourselves.
"When we sent him away it wasn't because we did not want him. It was because we could not look after him."
Now Yohande's younger brother Jeffrey and other family members have written a letter to the orphanage protesting that David could be taken out of the country by a "rich white donor".
It pleads that the baby must be brought up "knowing his Malawian culture".
It all leaves David the innocent victim of a legal stalemate. With Madonna unable to bring the baby home without the appropriate paperwork and the Malawian authorities unable to let him leave, he remains at the luxury Kumbali Lodge, where Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie stayed during their visit.
There is believed to be a wet nurse, a driver and a male bodyguard all in attendance and according to sources, a leading child psychologist flew into the country with Madonna and is still there with the child.
Meanwhile Yohane still struggles to come to terms with what he has done. He says he has received no money in connection with the adoption of his child, but there is a sense that this committed Christian, who sang with his late wife in the local church choir, has a niggling suspicion that what has happened is not right.
Certainly he has never behaved like a man who willingly abandoned his son.
For the past nine months he has visited his son whenever he could - regularly cycling the 25 miles from his home in the village to the orphanage along treacherous dirt and stone tracks more suited to rugged four wheel drive vehicles.
He said: "I would bring him food from my garden, then sit and play with him for a while. I wanted him to know that I was his father, that I love him very much.
"He is my only child still living and I think of him as a gift from God. He is also the best memory I have left of my wife."
David was one of around 100 babies being cared for at the Home of Hope. But it was he who Madonna selected to share her opulent lifestyle, taking only slightly longer to make her choice, according to one acerbic critic, "than she would to select a new handbag".
Sources at the orphanage told The Mail on Sunday that almost immediately after landing in Malawi, Madonna had rushed to see the child.
One said: "The first thing she did was move David and his nanny into a private room. She said she had been excited during her flight at the prospect of seeing him for the first time.
"She was so wrapped up in her baby. She said he had lovely hair and cooed over his dark skin. Guy was there, but he said nothing and kept in the background. He didn't hold the baby.
"Madonna carried David out in her arms and seemed very happy. Her smile was very big she said, 'Oh he's beautiful I just adore him'. I didn't see her husband hold him at all."
Staff at the luxury lodge reported that Madonna and her husband had slept in separate beds and would put the baby's cot between them at night during their stay.
Guy held the baby only occasionally, but Madonna was seen walking with him strapped to her back in a fabric sling, Malawian style.
Two days after Madonna arrived, Yohane received a message from the orphanage.
He said: "They wanted to know if I was still happy to go ahead as the lady donor who wanted David had come to take him.
"I said yes. The person said I should not leave the village as I needed to sign some papers."
The Rev Chipeta met Yohane on October 7 to explain what would happen next.
Yohane said: "He said I would have to go into Lilongwe and fill in some papers. I still didn't know the name of the woman.
"He just said she was a good Christian lady, who does a lot of charity work and also supported the orphanage.
"I asked if David could come to the village, one last time, so we could say goodbye.
"Rev Chipeta brought him the next day. It was Sunday and he was with his nanny.
"We killed a goat and had a small ceremony. There were tears and also happiness, because we feel he will come back to us one day."
It was only last Monday, after this newspaper was the first to track down Yohane at his remote village, that he learned the identity of his child's benefactor. He had never heard of her.
Perhaps it is not surprising. Lipunga, the village where he lives has no electricity or lavatories and baths are pits dug on the outskirts of the settlement.
Children, clad in rags, are covered in the red dirt that blows over the mountain range from Zambia, their faces smothered with the remains of dried food.
There are no obvious signs of hunger, but nor is there any indication that anyone here owns anything of any value.
Yohane said he wanted his son raised with Christian values. And he had been repeatedly reassured that everything was being done in David's best interests.
"I suppose that I don't have any say in what happens to him now," he said.
"But Madonna's lawyer told me at the court David would be brought at regular intervals for visits to Malawi.
"So I am sure I will see him. Maybe she will bring him to the village.
"He will always be in my heart. I hate to see him leave Malawi but I have come to accept the loss.
"The government people told me it would be a good thing for the country. He will come back educated and able to help us, that will be a good thing."