Relatives of 3-year-old Mercy are angered by claims from her dad that he wants to help
First, the long-missing father of 3-year-old Mercy James, the child Madonna would like to make her own, has surfaced – and he claims he wants to be a part of his daughter’s life.
The young man, James Kambewa, tells PEOPLE he didn’t even know his daughter was alive until her name surfaced in the Madonna adoption case. Now a security guard, Kambewa says he learned the girl’s mother, 15-year-old Mwandida Maunde, had died – and assumed their child was dead too.
“Now that I know [Mercy] is alive I am willing to support her,” Kambewa says. He and Maunde were both high school students when they conceived the child. “Her parents were furious that I had messed up their daughter. They caused hell for me so I left town,” says Kambewa.
Madonna’s attempt to adopt Mercy took a surprise turn April 3 when a high court judge denied her petition for temporary custody of the child. The singer’s legal team was preparing an appeal as she jetted to London to celebrate Passover and give her children time with Guy Ritchie, whom she divorced last year.
Mercy’s surviving relatives – who have signed off on her adoption by the American superstar – are upset by the sudden reappearance of Mercy’s father. “Where was he all this time?” asks her uncle Peter Baneti in a telephone interview with PEOPLE.
“He wasn’t there when his girlfriend was pregnant; he didn’t even attend her funeral when she died eight days after giving birth to Mercy,” says Baneti. “We don’t think he even knew she had a baby.”
Adds John Ngalande, another of Mercy’s uncles, “If he cared he should have attempted to find out the fate of his daughter. We can’t accept him to come into Mercy’s life simply because she is now famous. We are angry with this boy.”
Kambewa said he was forced to drop out of school because of pressure from Maunde’s family after Maunde became pregnant. He admits that although he knew she had died a week after giving birth, he never knew the baby survived. Now, he says, he is afraid to approach her family “because of what I did to their daughter, but I will see what I can do.”
Maunde gave birth to Mercy on Jan. 22, 2006, in the village of Thondwe in the east of Malawi. She was helped in the birth by her mother, Lucy Chekechiwa, but became sick and died on Feb. 5. The family was too poor to support the child. “That is why we decided to place her at the Kondanani Children’s Village with the hope of getting her back when she became of age,” says John Ngalande.
Mercy’s family initially opposed Madonna’s bid to adopt the girl but relented after negotiations with government officials and Raising Malawi, the charity Madonna operates in the country.