I’ve recently become quite a fan of American Horror Story, a television show that chronicles the bizarre and spooky inhabitants of a house in a small US town. It always fascinates me how we are always eager to hear stories of haunted houses, where poltergeists rattle pots and pans at midnight or otherworldly spectres slam doors. We love a good yarn, but do we really believe that buildings can be haunted?
It turns out that South Africa has a fair share of old ghost stories and tales of haunted homes. Daisy De Melker’s former residence is said to house apparitions while the ghost of Robert Thomas is believed is lurk about the Port Elizabeth library where he was caretaker until his death in 1943. He’s an over-achiever if you ask me. I’m barely at work five seconds after 5pm. It’s probably not a bad thing that Thomas spends his time in the library. The digital age combined with shocking literacy rates mean that libraries probably don’t get many visitors these days.
But it’s not only buildings that are apparently haunted. Just south of Johannesburg, somewhere on the road between Walkerville and De Deur there is a headless motorcyclist who speeds past you if you flash your lights. I think the speeding may give a clue as to why he’s headless. Road safety campaigns obviously mean very little to him. And in Uniondale there is a ghostly hitchhiker who only appears at Easter. We had relatives like that. We never heard from them and they would suddenly appear over the holidays and hope to stay over for a few nights. Needless to say my parents were frightened every time the doorbell would ring in during the school holidays.
If we were to nominate one South African town as our ghost capital, it would have to be Kimberly. There are reportedly over 150 known haunted buildings with close to 200 more believed to have inhabitants from another realm. The apparitions are varied – there is the arsenic swilling librarian, a phantom nun and even a the ghost of a drinks-serving waiter, which is amazing, because in many parts of South Africa getting service from a live waiter is nothing short of a miracle.
Rich in battlefield history, it is hardly surprising that KwaZulu-Natal has tales of spectres. The Nottingham Road Hotel is home to Charlotte, a jilted lover who threw herself over the rails many years ago and now roams the hotel as a ghost. She is believed to be a rather benign old spook. She tidies up, straightens bedding and moves flower arrangements. She must have OCD and be well liked by the cleaning staff who appreciate the extra help.
With all this talk of ghosts, goblins, poltergeists and lost souls, I must admit that there is one thing that truly scares me as a homeowner. And that’s seeing a moving van next door. How do I know the noisiest cretins this side of the equator aren’t planning on moving in next door? As they say, better the devil you know.