Was white teenager stolen and raised as an African slave?

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The Independent Online

South African police are conducting DNA tests on a couple who believe they are the parents of a white boy who claims he was abducted 12 years ago and raised in a rural community in conditions of slavery.

The blond 18-year-old, who can speak only Ndebele, arrived at a police station in Bronkhorstpruit, near Pretoria, on Monday. He has been known as Happy Sindane, but a 45-year-old woman, Sarie Botha, has come forward and said she is his mother and that his name is Jannie. Police confirmed the Bothas had reported their son missing in 1992.

The extraordinary story has driven the South African media into a frenzy. Huisgenoot, a leading Afrikaans magazine, is treating Happy like a minor celebrity, booking him into a hotel and shielding him from the rest of the press.

Mrs Botha told the daily newspaper, Beeld, that Jannie had disappeared when he went to play video games with two of his friends at a corner shop when he was six years old.

She was shattered, she said, when she saw pictures of the youth after he reappeared on Monday. She told Beeld: "This is Jannie. He looks just like his oldest brother Fanie when he was 10 years old."

A Pretoria police spokesman, Percy Morokane, said the boy had told the police that he was abducted by a domestic worker. Yesterday he was in "a place of safety" where the media have been barred by a court order from interviewing him until further notice and until Mrs Botha's claim to his parentage is verified.

But before the court order was issued, Happy Sindane described how he was abducted by a woman he remembered only as Rina. Since then he had lived with a rural family, where Rina had abandoned him, on the dusty streets of Tweefontein in Mpumalanga.

The shy and visibly traumatised boy said that since then he had known no other life except herding cattle and goats and doing menial jobs. He received no schooling but was forced to work on the land. He said he sometimes spent all night outside looking for strayed animals.

He claimed he fled Mpumalanga to look for his parents after his "grandfather", Koos Sindane, threatened to poison him. He claims that after his "foster mother", Betty, died in September last year his "grandfather" began to treat him like a slave.

When he turned up at Bronkhorstspruit police station he still remembered his date of birth as 4 May 1985. He was accompanied by an unidentified woman he had approached for help. The woman, who apparently knew the situation in the Sindane homestead, is said to have tried to help him to escape before.

Happy said: "I will be relieved if I can meet my parents. It is my dream."

Before his abduction, he remembered, he lived in Johannesburg with his Afrikaans-speaking family. Rina, who was looking after him, told him to go to the shops with her.

"As we were walking, we came across a construction company. She asked for directions and led me in to the construction company. She left me with Betty in the building and never came back," he said.

Happy said he could not remember the names of his parents or their address in Johannesburg. He recalled owning a small dog. He said he grew desperate to find his parents when he saw his own picture on a missing persons programme on television in 1994. His "foster mother" then threw him against the wall and told him never to watch television again. "Since then I told myself, the day I meet my parents everything is going to be all right."

After seeing Happy's picture in the press, Fanie Botha, 21, said: "This is my brother - I am positive."

He said he had not been able to sleep since hearing the story on Tuesday. He recalled the day when Jannie had disappeared when he went to play video games with two of his friends at the local corner shop when he was only six years old. He said ever since his younger brother went missing he wondered what had happened to him.

As newspapers scrambled for the story, Huisgenoot managed to prevent the Bothas from giving any further interviews.