South Africa's most haunted: 10 spooky places that'll give you the 'grils'
From ghoulish gallows to books that go bump in the night, Elizabeth Sleith looks at the settings for the country's creepiest 'true' ghost stories
1) Tokai Manor, Cape Town
The beautiful Tokai Manor House (pictured above) in the Tokai Forest in Cape Town was built in 1796, according to a design by the French master architect, Louis Michel Thibault.
It notably bears the dramatic feature of a very high front stoep with steep stairs, atypical in Cape-Dutch architecture of the time.
Over its many years, the house has been a venue for lavish parties, a reformatory school and, most recently, the headquarters of the Table Mountain National Park. It is a national monument.
The ghost story stems from the early 1800s, when owner Petrus Michiel Eksteen was famed for his elaborate parties. Supposedly, at a New Year’s Eve bash, Petrus dared his son Frederick to ride his horse up the staircase and into the dining room.
Frederick did so, making a lap around the dining room table, but on exiting, the horse slipped on the stairs.
The fall killed both the rider and his horse.
These days, one can supposedly hear a horse galloping in the forest, and sometimes see a ghostly horseman attempting to ascend the stairs, especially on New Year’s Eve.
2) Africana Library, Kimberley
The city’s first librarian is said to haunt the erstwhile Kimberly Public Library, built in 1882. After he was caught cooking the books - not literally, but with a pricing scam - Bertrand Dyer committed suicide at his workplace in 1908 by swallowing arsenic, taking three days to die.
Apparently his ghost can often be seen, pacing the halls of the library and rearranging the more than 14,000 books.
Supposedly, if you’re looking for a particular book, just shout out the title and Dyer’s ghost will pull it off the shelf for you.
3) Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein
This tiny Karoo village, established at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, is supposedly “the most haunted place in South Africa” — with much of the spooky action emanating from the grand Lord Milner Hotel.
Built in 1899, rumour has it the hotel boasts the sounds of billiard balls clacking where no one is playing and laughter coming from empty rooms.
The ghost of James Logan, the town founder, is said to still inhabit the elegant lounges at the back of the hotel and there are reportedly two female ghosts in residence, called Lucy and Kate.
Lucy has supposedly been seen floating around the passages and the stairs, some say sobbing, wearing a negligee. Sometimes, in the dead of night, a loud argument assumed to involve Lucy can be heard coming from one of the rooms, along with the sound of glasses and plates being smashed. On investigation, though, all is calm.
Kate was a young nurse who liked to play cards in a tiny room at the top of the hotel, now labelled “Kate’s Card Room”, with recuperating patients, perhaps when the hotel was a popular health resort. She died mysteriously at the age of 19.
Now people report seeing the card-room door inexplicably rattling, hearing the sound of cards being shuffled, and a woman in a nurse’s uniform floating in the passage.
In the town itself, a wounded British soldier with his arm in a sling and a bloody bandage over his head can supposedly sometimes be seen standing at the turn-off to the Memorial Cemetery.
4) The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town
The oldest surviving building in South Africa, the 17-century star fort known as the Castle of Good Hope once housed convicts, many of whom were executed there.
Not surprisingly, its reported apparitions make a long list, including a large black hound that leaps at visitors; a 2m-tall figure seen on the battlements; lights that go on and off by themselves, voices arguing, and the spectre of the castle’s first official hostess, Lady Anne Barnard, who supposedly likes to show up at parties held here for dignitaries.
5) Nottingham Road Hotel, KwaZulu-Natal
Nottingham Road Hotel, built in 1854, is home to “the oldest pub in Natal” and, perhaps not coincidentally, one of its most famous ghosts, though her tale has many versions.
The beautiful Charlotte, depending on who’s telling the tale, was either a prostitute or a chamber maid, though they all agree she died by falling from the balcony outside Room 10.
The stories diverge again on why. Either she was murdered by a client who got iffy about paying up; or she flung herself over the edge after learning of the death of her love, a British Army officer, in battle.
Today, she supposedly floats around the hotel, rearranging flowers, moving mirrors, ringing for room service and occasionally even folding the clothes of the guests sleeping in Room 10.
6) The road to Uniondale
In 1968, a newly engaged couple, Maria Roux and GM Pretorius, were driving from Graaf Reinet to Riversdal. It’s said they were on their way to give their parents the news of their engagement — but they never made it.
Some time in the night of April 12, as Roux slept on the back seat of the car, Pretorius lost control of the vehicle at the Barandas turnoff, 19km on a lonely road outside of Uniondale in the Eastern Cape. He was injured; she died in the crash.
Some years later, in 1976, motorists started seeing a woman in white on the side of the road where the accident took place.
Those who stopped to offer her a lift reported that she’d climb in the car, then disappear as they drove on, sometimes with the sound of a slamming car door and a strong scent of apple blossoms lingering in the air.
The first shaken person to report this to the police station is said to have identified the woman as Roux from old photographs.
Supposedly, these reports became so frequent that the local police department kept sugar water on hand, especially to calm motorists who came in to report having seen the ghost.
Even more spookily, Pretorius got married a year after the accident, which may be what had stirred up Maria’s ghost in the first place.
When he, too, died in a car accident in 1984, Maria stopped appearing.
7) Kempton’s Haunted Hospital
The Kempton Park Hospital, opened in 1976, closed its doors the day after Christmas in 1996 with millions of rands worth of equipment locked inside.
Though most of that has been stolen in the 19 years since, the hospital, with blood smears on the walls and patient files strewn across the floors, has long been a draw for amateur ghost hunters.
Their claimed proof of paranomal activity includes recordings of mysterious screams and breathing; while photographs show several apparitions in human form or the details obscured in a strange, white glow. There is also video footage - watch it below - of what appears to be a man in a hospital gown roaming the halls.
8) The Old Gaol, Grahamstown
Built in Grahamstown in 1824, the Old Gaol was a prison when martial law ruled in the old town.
“Dead men walking” - those sentenced to death - were led from the Old Goal to the military parade ground for public hanging.
The last victim of such a death was Henry Nicholls, executed in 1862 after being convicted of rape. That this was not an offence punishable by death is, some say, the reason for his restlessness.
Now his spirit is supposedly doomed to repeat the sombre walk - back and forth from gaol to gallows - perhaps for eternity.
9) Smuts House, Pretoria
General Jan Smuts moved into this corrugated iron building - supposedly the British Army's old mess hall, which he'd bought, had dismantled and moved to its present position in Irene, Pretoria - in 1909, and stayed for over 40 years.
On his farm known as 'Doornkloof', today it is a museum with several indigenous trees planted by Smuts, who was a keen gardener.
Many visitors claim to have seen an old man floating around on the grounds, though it isn't thought to be Smuts. The story goes that it's the spirit of a farmer who lived on the land before Smuts' time.
Fearing capture and concentration camps as the British marched on Pretoria during the Boer War, he fled with his family - though he presumably planned to return. Before he went, he buried a small fortune in gold somewhere on the property, though never came back for it - at least not alive, anyway...
10) Victoria Hotel, Pretoria
Built in 1880 as the Hollandia Hotel, the oldest lodgings in Pretoria, are allegedly home to an ethereal “grey lady” who likes to linger on the main staircase. There’s also little Alfie who, it's rumoured, likes to turn the taps on and off and bang things about in the kitchen.