Happy Sindane is shown at a Pretoria, South Africa, police station in 2003, when he was about 18. He became famous in racially sensitive South Africa after claiming that he was white and had been abducted by a black family. He was found slain on Monday.
JOHANNESBURG -- A man in racially charged South Africa who became famous a decade ago for claiming to be a white slave for a black family has been slain.
Happy Sindane was found dead in a ditch on Monday in the town of Tweefontain, about 80 miles from Johannesburg.
A 58-year-old suspect, Khuwana Simon Mthimunye, was charged with murder and will be kept in custody for an April 11 bail hearing, Col. Leonard Hlathi, a police spokesman for the area, said Tuesday.
Though happy by name, Sindane led a life, probably less than 30 years long, that was plagued by tragedy.
The Star newspaper in South Africa reported an interview with police Capt. Vusi Mahlangu saying that a fight broke out between Sindane and the suspect over a bottle of brandy at a tavern the night before Sindane's body was found.
The fight was broken up and the two left the tavern together. Later, an empty bottle of brandy and a hat belonging to the suspect were found next to Sindane's body, the paper reported. NBC News could not independently confirm the account. Calls to Mahlangu went unanswered.
"The post-mortem reads that Mr. Sindane died of head injuries. A stone was found by officers at the scene that suggests he was hit in the head with it until death," Hlathi said.
"His body was identified by relatives, community members and police. He was a well-known person. He was found about not far, about 300 meters (328 yards) from his home."
Sindane became a household name in South Africa in 2003 when he claimed to police that he was white and was being enslaved by a black community. A court found that Sindane, then thought to be between 16 and 20 years old, was probably the son of Henry Nick, a white man, and a black domestic worker employed by him named Rina Mzayiya. His birth name was found to have been Abbey Mziyaye, and he had been brought up by the Sindane family after being given up by his birth parents.
In 2004, Sindane was run over by a minivan and a car while lying in a road in his village. He also appeared later that year in Pretoria Magistrate's Court for allegedly breaking a taxi's windows with stones. The charges were dropped the following year.
Sindane was awarded a settlement payout by the Dulux paint company after they used an image of him in an advertisement with the slogan "any color you can think of." Sindane said he never gave permission for the company to use his picture.
The Pretoria News quoted Father Charles Kuppelwieser, who often tried to help Sindane, as saying: "He had the opportunity to study to become a carpenter, electrician or get involved with computers, but he did not have the basic skills," adding, "to us, Happy was always well-mannered and a good boy, but when the weekend came he would get drunk."
The newspaper reported that Thomas Kabini, a cousin of Sindane's, said he had seen the deceased in the week before his death. "He was in good spirits and happy," Kabini said, according to the paper.