Madonna the manipulator: Unease grows over singer's ruthless tactics in adopting a second African child
Madonna the manipulator: Unease grows over singer's ruthless tactics in adopting a second African child
By Natalie Clarke
Last updated at 8:55 AM on 31st March 2009
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Mission: A demurely dressed Madonna leaves court in Malawi yesterday
Madonna chose a plain black dress and low heels yesterday for her appointment with the judge who will decide whether she can adopt Mercy James.
Back in America, she's been playing the rock chick by hanging on the arm of a bloke called Jesus, who's more than 20 years younger than her. Here in Malawi, however, the singer would like to present a more demure image.
Malawians take their Christianity seriously, and there is disquiet about a newly divorced woman who cavorts with toyboys adopting another child and taking her back to the States.
There are also concerns that the child will be raised not as a Christian, but as a follower of Kabbalah, the faux Jewish faith beloved by celebrities.
So that's why she's replaying her role as Madonna the Demure, last performed when she visited to adopt David Banda two-and-a-half years ago. On that visit, her then husband Guy Ritchie was with her. Now she is a single parent.
Madonna is said to have split from Jesus Luz, the model 22 years her junior, days before flying into Malawi. Word had apparently got back to her that there was disquiet in the country about her lifestyle.
Yesterday Madonna arrived at Lilongwe High Court, a low red-brick building surrounded by gardens, at 8.40am and left shortly after 10am.
In Court One, she was questioned by the judge, Esme Chombo, about Mercy and her intentions for the child. Also in court was Peter Baneti, the uncle of four-year-old Mercy. The judge adjourned the case until Friday, when she will announce her ruling.
Not everyone here is impressed with Madonna's self-appointment as saviour of Malawi's orphans. Yesterday the singer was branded a 'child kidnapper' by Mabvuto Bamusi, executive director of Malawi's Human Rights Consultative Committee, a network of 85 non-governmental organisations.
'We feel Madonna is behaving like a bully,' added Undule Mwakasungula, its national co-ordinator, after the court hearing. 'She has money, she has status, she is using her profile to manipulate the procedures.'
It would seem that Mercy's family have finally bowed to the adoption after two years of pressure, exerted at Madonna's behest.
Learning English: Madonna hopes to take four-year-old Mercy James back with her to New York
Only this weekend, Mercy's grandmother, Lucy, said that Mercy was being 'stolen' from the family.
Madonna, who flew in to Lilongwe by private jet on Sunday afternoon, eventually sold the idea to the family by saying that one day Mercy would come back to see them at their village.
Madonna takes David to visit orphanage as she's branded a 'bully' over Mercy adoption bid
As Madonna flies to Malawi to adopt Mercy, her family tell of fears they will never see her again
Back to reality: Jesus Luz catches up with friends in Rio as Madonna confirms split on Twitter
Mercy will not lose touch with her roots, she told them. But that's what Madonna said about David Banda, the Malawian boy she adopted in 2006. David would stay in touch with his father, Yohane, who had placed the then 13-month-old boy in an orphanage following the death of his wife from childbirth complications.
Apart from one brief meeting during Madonna's visit in 2007, 34-year-old Yohane has not seen his son. Yesterday they finally saw each other again and David's first words to his father were: 'Hello, who are you?'
More controversy: Mercy's uncles John Ngalande, Peter Baneti and grandmother Anaphiri say they do not want Madonna to take the child away
Conversation between father and son, now three, was through an interpreter because David speaks English and Yohane speaks Chichewa. 'Yohane said he understood why David had not recognised him,' says a friend.
'He was such a young child when they parted. Yohane said he hardly recognised David, either, as he has grown so big and strong.
'It was an emotional meeting for Yohane, and David kept playing with his nose, which made him laugh.'
She is simply used to having everything utterly as she wishes it
When will father and son be together again? It could be years.
The meeting took place yesterday morning at the luxurious Kumbali Country Lodge, outside Lilongwe, where Madonna is staying with her entourage and two other children, Lourdes, 12, and Rocco, eight.
Madonna's staff drove Yohane from the village of Lipunga, four hours away, to the lodge a few days ago.
The little girl Madonna is hoping to take home with her, Mercy James, is also at the lodge, after being taken from her orphanage outside Blantyre, in the south of Malawi, last week.
On Sunday night, Madonna hosted a dinner at the lodge for her staff of ten, which include a nanny who's been looking after Mercy, and her children. The lodge chefs made a strawberry cheesecake for David.
Over the past couple of days, Mercy and David have been getting to know each other, playing in the gardens.
VIP visit: Madonna with daughter Lourdes took a trip to a centre for orphans in Malawi which she set up through her Raising Malawi charity
Rocco's new look: David's older brother Rocco was sporting a new Mohican hairstyle
Engaged: She spoke with locals as she toured around the school in Namitete, some 50 km south of Malawi's capital Lilongwe
And what of their 50-year-old mother? Every day, whatever is happening in her world, and wherever she is in the world, Madonna's fitness regime must not be neglected.
The first thing she did when she arrived back at the lodge after the hearing yesterday was to run on the treadmill (yes, the treadmill she has flown in specially, along with a number of machines she uses to maintain her famous muscle tone).
She has even brought a personal trainer with her - a chap called Josh, who is staying at the lodge, too.
The irony of flying in a personal trainer by private jet to this impoverished land seems to escape Madonna.
Motherly love: Adopted son David also came along for the trip
Nice to see you again: David, who was adopted by the singer in 2006, gave an enthusiastic wave to the centre's children, who looked a little wary of his arrival
She is simply used to having everything utterly as she wishes it - which goes some way, perhaps, to explaining the ongoing Mercy saga, which will finally have a resolution at the end of the week.
Mercy's 18-year-old mother died a few days after she was born. Her father is also believed to be dead.
But she does have uncles and her grandmother, Lucy, who have opposed the adoption from the start. The more they opposed the singer, the more determined she became to have Mercy.
She has had government officials visit Mercy's family on and off for two years. Given that there are more than a million orphans in Malawi, isn't there one who doesn't have surviving family left to face the heartache of a child being taken away to a foreign land?
Look what I can do: David, who now counts one of the world's biggest pop star's as his mother, showed off his new skills on a toy guitar
Mercy's family aren't impressed by Madonna the superstar. They don't even know who she is because they have no radio or television in the redbrick hut in their village. All they know is that there is a wealthy lady from America who wishes to take Mercy away with her.
Mr Baneti, Mercy's uncle, lives in a mud shack five hours away from Lilongwe.
He had never been to Lilongwe before yesterday's court hearing.
Asked what she thought about those opposed to the adoption, she replied: 'It's none of their business.'
Speaking a few days ago, the fisherman reportedly said: 'We never wanted to let Mercy go. She is part of our extended family and our culture.
'Now we have been persuaded that Mercy can have a better, healthier life somewhere else in the world with this rich white woman. I feel we need more advice, but everything is going so fast. We were told there is an important meeting where we must sign papers on Monday. Now we hear it is a court hearing in front of a judge.
'We have no experience of this sort of thing. We are not sure if we should be saying goodbye to Mercy like this.
'We cannot afford a lawyer to represent us, but my brother and I are going to insist there is an agreement that our niece will come back to us one day. We really need that.'
The problem, of course, is that Madonna has a lawyer and a team in Malawi behind her looking out for her own interests. You might say she has an unfair advantage.
She is also in a frighteningly bullish mood. Asked what she thought about those opposed to the adoption, she replied: 'It's none of their business.'
Memorable moments: Madonna's daughter Lourdes was seen taking photographs during the visit
Judgment day: Madonna arrived at a Malawi court yesterday seeking permission to adopt a second child but the case has been adjourned until Friday
Indeed, there is a sense of deja vu in Malawi. They have seen it all before with David Banda.
Back in 2006, she was accused of circumventing Malawian law, which states that foreigners must be resident in Malawi for 18 months before being allowed to adopt.
It is still not entirely clear how Madonna managed to 'fast track' the adoption, but it is believed there is a loophole in the law which states that individual cases can be examined on their own merits.
The law remains the same, so it would seem that in Mercy's case the rules have been, if not broken, then bent to the singer's advantage.
Family affair: Madonna, seen here with her daughter Lourdes, arrived in Malawi on Sunday to collect her new 'daughter' Mercy
Malawi customs: The singer ordered her daughter to say 'Muli bwanji', which means 'How are you', as she greeted members of the village
Grave concerns remain. The HRCC points out that Malawi is a signatory to the Child Rights Convention, which states that when considering child protection issues, due regard should be paid to 'the desirability of continuity in a child's upbringing and to the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background'.
On which of those points does Madonna score in her claim to Mercy? Not one.
Despite such disquiet, it seems the objections will fall on deaf ears. Madonna is ignoring all the controversy, and perhaps - being Madonna - rather enjoying it.
Yesterday afternoon, after the court hearing and the workout, she visited a school she is building in Mphandula, an hour's drive from Lilongwe.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous: Madonna had a private jet to transport her
Media circus: Villagers and reporters crowd around a convoy of cars driving the singer as she arrives at a site where she is setting up a school near Lilongwe
She and the children presented a picture of happy family life.
Madonna sat for 20 minutes doing an Earth Mother impression making a basket, while David strummed on a cowhide guitar. Rocco darted about the place sporting a new Mohicanlike haircut.
Madonna will visit a number of schools and orphanages which she is supporting this week before learning on Friday whether she will be taking Mercy home.
As she went about her public good works yesterday afternoon, black clouds gathered over Lilongwe and the rains came. Whether they are symbolic of the storms that lie ahead remains to be seen.
Roaming free: Madonna recently split up with Jesus Luz, who was seen taking his dog for a walk in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, over the weekend
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Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below?
Sure this isn't one of Madonnas obsessive attempts to make herself appear younger ? Maybe she thinks if she surrounds herself with young children and young men people will overlook she's fifty. Seems to me anyone with her money can legally take children from their families
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- mother of one, Melb Aus, 31/3/2009 05:20
There are millions of unwanted children in the world, so why Malawi? Why take a child away from it's family and culture? Why not adopt in America?
The trouble with Madonna is she has too much money and has had too many people paying her lip service for so many years that no-one has stood up to her. What Madonna wants, Madonna gets and the more self-serving publicity the better! I think the interests of the child should be put way ahead of the ego of a pop star and just because she has money doesn't mean she can provide the child with a better life.