Ghosts and Witchcraft Near the Kruger National Park

A tragedy of South Africa, in recent years, has been the burning of hundreds of “witches”. Most of these crimes took place in what is now Limpopo province, but the following strange event took place in the village of Majembeni, near Hazyview in Mpumalanga (“sunrise”) province. It was recorded by Goodenough and Sydney Mashego of the Sunday Times, in March 1996. Unusually, the victim was not human. A baboon was seen in the village, and a woman cried out that it was a witch. A crowd chased the animal up a tree, and a man grabbed it and swung it round until it was dizzy. It was thrown to the ground and beaten with iron bars, and petrol was poured onto it. A tyre was placed on the baboon, a method of execution known as “necklacing”, and it was burned. The woman who started the frenzy said that when it was alive, the baboon was a giant. Its small size after being burned, and the time it took to set it alight, apparently proved that witchcraft was involved. The secretary of the local civic association said that the creature had appeared from nowhere, magically, and that it had no owner. In that, he was mistaken. The unhappy owner was seen collecting her murdered pet.

I never asked about ghosts on my short visits to Pilgrim’s Rest (Pelgrimsrus), but the area must be worthy of investigation. The whole of this picturesque nineteenth-century village is a national monument. You have to visit the Royal Hotel. The bar dates from 1882 at its present location, but was actually once a church in Lourenco Marques (Maputo), in Mozambique. The building was dismantled and reassembled as part of the hotel. The cemetery is always a good place to look for ghosts. Many graves of the gold rush days are unnamed. Most face east to west, but some face north to south. These are the graves of unfortunates summarily and illegally executed for crimes that the prospectors regarded as particularly heinous, such as the theft of a horse or tent.

Twelve miles south of Machadodorp is the farm Uitkomst ("outcome"), on which there is a pretty waterfall at which a tragedy occurred. I am not sure of the date, but in the late nineteen-sixties, it was already said to have been “many years ago". A couple on their honeymoon visited the waterfall, and the bride posed on the edge so that her husband could take a photograph. The rocks on the edges of waterfalls are notoriously slippery, however, and she fell to her death. Exactly a year later, her distraught husband took his own life at the same spot. On moonlit nights, the reunited pair may still be seen at the top of the waterfall.

At Waterval-Onder (“lower waterfall”) is the Wayside Inn, a nineteenth century coaching inn. In the grounds of the hotel was a peppercorn tree under which a nurse and an officer of the Inniskilling Dragoons kept their trysts. Both were killed in an attack during the Anglo-Boer war. This did not prevent their spirits from meeting under the tree in the evenings. Unfortunately, the tree blew down in the nineteen-sixties, and the grave of the officer was moved to Barberton. It has been suggested that the ghostly courtship can no longer continue, but if I’m any judge of ghosts, they will still sometimes meet at their favourite spot, perhaps under a ghostly peppercorn tree.

Also in the grounds of the Wayside Inn is the Krugerhof, where President Paul Kruger stayed before his exile in Europe. Before he left, he and his cabinet met in a railway carriage, and it was from here that they disposed of the gold of the South African Republic, the mysterious treasure known as the Kruger Millions.

While at Waterval-Onder, be sure to visit the beautiful Elands River Falls, and it is worthwhile following the scenic route to the Montrose Falls. There are various historic sites in the area, such as the Z.A.S.M. railway tunnel, dating from the nineteenth century South African Republic.

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