Hunting for Uniondale's famous hitch-hiking ghost
Brenwin Naidu takes a road trip to a tiny town in the Western Cape to try find a fabled apparition
The tiny town of Uniondale in the Western Cape is akin to other similarly dainty and forgotten punctuations on the map of SA. You will find a church. A school. A liquor store - wait - a few of those. Pick-up trucks aplenty. Not many signs in English.
This place was the subject of affection from celebrated author Dalene Matthee, who put together a team to restore some long-standing landmarks. More recently, it gave us Dewald Human, a young, up-and-coming South African National Rugby Sevens team player.
But despite these and other achievements, the citizens of the town will never be able to put paid to an old spectre.
Which is no figure of speech, of course: a literal spook hovers over the history of things and appears to form the cornerstone of the town's tourism market. The veracity of this curious dementor remains to be certified.
Armed with Casper The Friendly Ghost as our only paranormal reference point, we set off to learn more. It must be said, if we are rating things on a Casper scale, that Uniondale is more Casper de Vries than Cassper Nyovest.
But residents are always keen to discuss the elusive ghoul, even though you know that over the decades they have fielded countless questions from curious city slickers. My first port of call is the aptly named Hungry Ghost restaurant. "You are not in luck," the hostess says. "You should have visited us during Easter."
Her gloomy pessimism is dismissed. This ghost strikes me as consistent in her work and further investigation under the blanket of darkness should yield an encounter.
According to the hostess, a visit from the spook is likely to be accompanied by a strong scent of apples - and the slamming of a car door - since she likes to hitch a ride. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The Ghost of Uniondale is believed to be a woman. One Maria Charlotte Roux who met her demise in a motor vehicle accident on April 12 1968. It is said to have happened after midnight, naturally. When have you ever heard of a scary fable that started in the sunshine of business hours?
According to a Uniondale local, a visit from the spook is likely to be accompanied by a strong scent of apples
Her fiancé, Giel Oberholzer, was driving their Volkswagen Beetle and lost control while she was taking a nap in the back. And so her restless spirit now traverses the N9 between Uniondale and Willowmore.
Numerous experiences have been reported over the years. Though the apparition seems more mischievous than truly malevolent, preferring to unnerve her victims with a shrill giggle and a sudden onset of icy temperatures, instead of causing any real harm.
In popular culture, her myth even inspired a film. Released in 2014, Die Spook van Uniondale stars singer-songwriter Adam Tas and model Tanya van Graan. Perhaps predictably, the tale begins with an out-of-towner suffering the misfortune of car trouble. And the story is tinged with romance rather than outright horror.
At Uniondale SAPS I make a rather logical inquiry that would add some credence to the story. Was there an accident report in the archives, chronicling that fateful April day? The constable behind the counter chuckles and refers me to his colleague, who regales me with an animated, verbal record, as had the hostess from earlier.
I never did spot Maria on my jaunt through that section of the N9. But the cynic in me conjured up an inkling of why some would be led into thinking they felt and heard strange things.
This stretch of road is as straight as an arrow and would disorientate anyone, especially fatigued, road-worn travellers. Staring ahead, flanked by a monotonous landscape, there is plenty of space and time for a vacant mind to play tricks.
An anticlimax, admittedly. Quite frightening how the blandness of reality can be even more chilling than certain fanciful myths.
THE CAR THAT TOOK US TO UNIONDALE
The 2018 Range Rover Sport HSE SDV6 was well suited to the trek from Johannesburg to Uniondale, a one-way journey of 1,073km.
As the middle-child of the range, the model slots above the Evoque and Velar, but a tier below the full-sized original.
Makes one question the sense of its larger sibling, however, because the Sport offers virtually all the benefits of the bigger car, albeit in a more compact, attainable package.
That means luxurious touring capabilities and impressive off-road prowess, with its height-adjustable, pneumatic suspension. The 2995cc, six-cylinder unit of this supercharged-diesel derivative (250kW and 450Nm) provides ample shove via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
We achieved a consumption figure of 8.4l/100km. There was one gripe, however. Its InControl Touch digital interface froze up on us, more than once.
That aside, the Sport did not skip a beat, travelling a further 2,000km to Cape Town, then Joburg. Prices start at R1,115,200.