The story of Happy Sindane puts the lie to South Africa’s rainbow shibboleths

A short South African Press Association bulletin on Monday announced the death of one Happy Sindane. If you don’t remember him (and South Africans are notorious for their short memories), he “made headlines in late May 2003 when he alleged that he was a white boy who had been kidnapped by black people.” Sindane had grown up in Mpumalanga, a South African province on the border with Mozambique and Swaziland. Four months later a judge ruled that Sindane’s real name was Abbey Mziyaye, the son of a black domestic worker and her white employer, who had both abandoned Sindane after he was born in 1984. It was Apartheid after all. Sindane was raised by a black woman in a black township until the day he walk into a police station to announce that he had been abducted and that he was white. Sindane, not surprisingly, dominated the headlines in South Africa for a few months. As New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen reported at the time, Sindane came “to symbolize the intensity with which South Africans still scrutinize matters of race — years after apartheid’s demise and despite real progress toward building an integrated society.” An advertising agency (and a paint company) made some money at his expense (because everything is apparently up for grabs in the “new South Africa”) and then he vanished from the media view, except when he was arrested once for some minor crime. The news this Monday was that he had been stoned to death. But to go back to when the story of the lost white boy first “broke.” At that time my friend Herman Wasserman and I co-wrote an op-ed on the Sindane case for South Africa’s Sunday Times (published on June 1, 2003) which is worth revisiting today: Continue reading