Newsmaker: Not a happy ending

2013-04-07 10:00

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Happy Sindane’s name belied his tragic, short life. We travel to Tweefontein in Mpumalanga to see what led to Happy’s lonely, violent death.

After questions about his race and true identity made international headlines 10 years ago, Happy Sindane retreated quietly to his adoptive family in Mpumalanga.

Tweefontein – a sprawling village on either side of the Moloto road in KwaMhlanga, east of Pretoria – is where Sindane (28) spent the last years of his life.

Sindane became famous in 2003 when he claimed the Sindanes kidnapped him from a white family when he was just a little boy and practically enslaved him as a goat and cattle herder.

Then 16-year-old pleaded with the public to help him find his “real” parents.

His was probably the most recognisable face in Tweefontein, but the young man was by no means happy.

Neighbours remember him for two things: appearing on TV and in newspapers, and excessive drinking.

He had no close friends and had been living with the extended Sindane family since 2009 when his grandmother, Nurse, died in January last year.

Her death prompted his move back to Tweefontein, which was where he grew up.

He moved in with three of his late adoptive mother Betty’s children – Mduduzi (18), Stephans (16) and Tholakele (21).

The four lived in Happy’s childhood home and were financially supported by their uncle Piet Sindane.

Patrons at a local tavern where Happy had his last drink before he was brutally murdered over the Easter weekend said he did not trouble anyone.

Three young men milling around the tavern said Sindane sometimes lost his cool, but did not get into physical fights.

“He was always involved in rowdy incidents – swearing and arguing with people – but he did not lay a hand on anyone,” said one patron.

A question about his relationships with women made the trio burst out laughing.

“No, he had no girlfriend,” said one. “He just liked his drinking.”

Sindane usually drank sorghum beer and when he had enough cash, he bought lager, according to the tavern’s 62-year-old owner, Thomas Kabini.

Sindane did odd jobs like gardening or fixing electrical appliances.

Kabini said: “He was drinking here every day and was always the last person to leave after helping me pack crates and collect empty bottles. He helped for free. The more he got drunk, the funnier his jokes became.”

Sindane’s 34-year-old cousin, Thomas Kabini (no relation to the tavern owner), described Happy in isiNdebele as “Inkom’edla yodwa” (The cow that grazes alone) – a loner.

Sindane’s lifeless body was found lying in a small ditch about 300m from the tavern in the early hours of Monday.

Mpumalanga police say his bloodstained cap was found next to him. Sindane was allegedly stabbed, hacked and stoned to death the previous night following a brawl at the tavern.

Details about how Sindane died are still sketchy, but the police arrested Khuwani Mthimunye (58) for his murder on Tuesday.

Mthimunye appeared in the KwaMhlanga Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

He has not pleaded and the case was postponed to April 11 for a bail application.

Provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Hlathi said the investigation was still ongoing.

“The reports we received are that (Mthimunye) was seen following Sindane from the tavern,” Hlathi said.

There are two versions about what happened during the brawl.

One is that Sindane fought with Mthimunye over brandy and the other, offered by 45-year-old Lizzy Nkonyane, who was working at the tavern that night, is that they fought over a wallet.

“They fought and we separated them. They then left,” Nkonyane said.

His cousin Thomas said Sindane was stabbed in the temple and appeared to have been hacked on the forehead.

“We suspect he was killed far away and dumped in the ditch because there was very little blood where he was found,” said Thomas.

Sindane’s funeral was held in Tweefontein yesterday.

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