The father of the African twins Madonna is adopting claims he was misled into believing their move to the US would not be permanent.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Adam Mwale reacted with disbelief after being told that his four-year-old daughters Esther and Stella have been taken away from Malawi for ever.
‘That cannot be true,’ he insisted. Mr Mwale said he believed the singer was only fostering the girls.
Speaking for the first time since Madonna began the process of adopting the twins, the 40-year-old farmer dismissed as ‘lies’ a court’s contention that he had ‘abandoned’ the girls after their mother died in childbirth.
Mr Mwale’s account of how he had done all he could to care for his family was backed up by the chief of his remote rural village.
Mr Mwale said: ‘I was told from the start that Esther and Stella were going to a rich woman’s home abroad, that she would give them a good education, then return them to me, to live with me and help all of my family.
‘Now you are telling me the adoption is permanent. That cannot be true – I don’t want it to be true. I am their father and I will always be their father.’
Mr Mwale first learnt of Madonna’s interest in the girls last May when he was invited to their orphanage, Home of Hope, outside the Malawian capital Lilongwe.
Visiting from his village, Kayembe, he was told that the pop star liked the twins and wanted to take them away and educate them. He consulted his late wife’s family and they agreed it would be a wonderful opportunity for the girls.
But when told by The Mail on Sunday that adoption meant they would be permanently separated from him, Mr Mwale said: ‘No, that is not what I was told. I accepted they would go abroad but I was told they would also be coming back. They would always be my children, and I would always be their daddy.’
Mr Mwale, who has had no formal education, claimed he was told repeatedly that the singer would be like a foster mother to the twins, and he maintained this belief throughout the court hearing earlier this month about the adoption application.
He said: ‘The orphanage boss told me it would be a wonderful chance for my little girls, and for their brother and sisters at home. I was told to agree with everything in court. I did not believe I would never see my girls again.
‘I was standing with my brother-in-law who signed the consent forms with me, and we just continued to believe that I would always be the twins’ father and they would be coming home to me.’
Mr Mwale said he had been forced to listen to ‘terrible lies’ when a court-appointed guardian of the children told the judge the father had abandoned his family to marry another woman after the death of his wife, Patricia. The couple had five other children, now aged between eight and 20, before the twins.
The judgment says: ‘After the death of his wife, the infants’ father left the village to marry another woman without making any arrangement for their maintenance.’
But Mr Mwale said: ‘It was me who took the girls to the orphanage after Patricia died. We had been happily married for many years. We had a good family life. But when she gave birth to the twins, she lost a lot of blood and died. The twins survived. I wanted the hospital to help but they said the orphanage was the best place. Everyone in the village knows I just wanted the best for them.’
Kayembe village chief Khwele said that despite being poor, the local community had tried to help. He added: ‘Adam was sad and troubled at that time. We supported him as best we could but no one here has very much.’
Mr Mwale remarried two years after Patricia’s death and, far from abandoning his children, he worked hard to put them through school, visiting the twins regularly at the orphanage.
He said: ‘I used to cycle there down a dirt road, taking two hours each way. I brought little dresses and gifts for them and they would sit on my lap, one twin on either side, and laugh and play with me. They call me Ababa [Daddy in the Malawi language Chechewa] and when they came home for holidays to the village, they loved to be with their brother and sisters.’
While the court hearing was taking place, Mr Mwale was allowed to spend 12 days with the twins in a lodge away from his village. ‘It was exciting,’ he said. ‘They were going to have a new life for a while, and it was a mixture of feelings for all of us. I thought it was the start of something new but temporary. I thought they would have a great education, which I could never afford, and that we would one day be together again. Deep down I still hope for a future with them. The orphanage boss told me not to discuss this, but now I am worried.’
Madonna, 58, was allowed to take Esther and Stella to New York with her within hours of the court’s agreement to their adoption on February 8. The adoption is set to be made permanent in 12 months, subject to the court’s approval. The singer has previously adopted two other children from Malawi – David Banda, 11, and Mercy James, ten. She also has two natural children – Lourdes, 20, and 16-year-old Rocco.
Dr Mary Shawa, from the Malawian ministry which processed the adoption said: ‘I can’t say why the guardian told the court that Mr Mwale had abandoned his children. The judge said that was wrong.’