Friday, 25 April 2008

Haunted by white ghosts! The curse of Dipokong

I love the Daily Sun, that scurrilous South African tabloid that plumbs the depths of human gullibility. Despite its unashamedly tabloid credentials and dubious news claims, it is a highly professional newspaper that has refined the formula for mass-market sensationalism down to the finest element of punctuation. Just in case you don't realise how sensational each story is, almost all headlines end with an exclamation mark.

As in any good sensationalist publication, this one is littered with the dark deeds of aliens - but as in illegal immigrants, rather than Elvis abductors. However, it is only a small step across the border into the land of urban legends, ghosts and other nomads of the paranormal. But don't they just know how to milk the legends that cross their desks!

The Daily Sun will become a regular visitor to this blog. But meanwhile, my all-time favourite from its pages combines racial fears with supernatural fears, and of course adds plenty exclamation marks and capital letters. It was the front page headline story on 19 March 2008, and is the story of the houses that were:


Our houses built on mlungu graves!

By Isaac Khumalo

HOUSES are cracking and small sinkholes are appearing.
Maybe it's just the rain and soft earth ...
Their township is built on ground that was once farmland in the apartheid years.
It's the curse of Dipokong - "ghost town" in seSotho and seTswana.
People say that when their township was built in 1969... the houses were built on top of mlungu graves!
At the time, say older residents, the children of the dead came carrying candles to take away the bones of their forefathers.
But they didn't take ALL the bones!
And now the remaining bones have been dug up by road workers!
For residents this was a relief.
They hope their troubles are now over.

The story then continues on page two, under the heading, "People fear cursed town!" It has a photo of a resident, with the caption reading: "Maki Lekgola says six people are buried in her yard", and a photo of the road contractor who found the bones, standing alongside a road excavation. And then it delves into a classic tale of a haunting:

They have grown used to the sound of their wardrobes moving at night... and the sounds of water from the sink when no water is running!
Some people who visit the area at night are found the next morning ... many kilometres away!

For evidence, the aforementioned Maki Lekgola (51), showed the newspaper a crack in her dining-room. And, she told them, outside her home she had built a stoep (veranda), "which soon sank into the ground!"
Even more alarming, and clear evidence of massive supernatural intervention, was the experience of Martha Tatai (49):

"Last year my aunt visited us for an ancestral ceremony. At night she went to an outside toilet and she got lost.
"She was found in Vanderbijlpark, about 35km away!"
Martha said her aunt had told them that "a white woman gave her a lift in a car".
"My aunt does not want to hear anything about visiting us after that!"

No mention of whether the white woman was a supernatural entity. That would have been a neat twist on the lady in white from our Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legends! (oops, got to watch those exclamation marks...) Read more about those here.

The story is remarkable for several reasons. One is its naked racism in using the derogatory term mlungu to refer to white people (yes,its sometimes used as a term of endearment, and has positive meanings, but let's not get disingenuous here).

More significantly, the story draws on a well-established Western tradition of tracing hauntings of homes to the location having been an ancient burial ground or the scene of mass murder. Either way, the souls of the dead can't find rest, and disturb the living who find their homes in the same locations.

This is a great basis for ghost and horror stories and movies, rather than for historical fact. Usually, as in the case of The Amityville Horror, there is a factual basis to the story (here we find the gruesome mass murder of the DeFeo family by the oldest son, Ronald DeFeo, who later claimed he had heard voices that told him what to do, and strange happenings reported by the newcomers, the Lutz family). But then the creative spirit takes over, and the result is priests fleeing in terror, and a family's race against time to get out of the house before the ghosts get them.

Most significantly, the original source of the Amityville haunting and the voice that instructed Ronald DeFeo was said to be the fact that the house was built on a site where the Shinnecock Indians had once abandoned the dying, and that it was also the site of an old cemetery. However, these claim are thoroughly debunked at the Amityville Murders web site.

While such terrors are not quite the Curse of Dipokong, that very phrase suggests vengeful spirits waiting in the wings. And what more appropriate source of that fear than the spirits of the white people who had been the perpetrators of black people's misery for so many years before?

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Monday, 14 April 2008

The ghost of the mine shafts

This tale of South Africa's haunted mines comes from the pages of Homeless Talk, a newspaper written mostly by homeless people and sold by street vendors who themselves are homeless.

Luke Jentile, a former miner, contributes a column about his experiences under the heading Deep Levels. His April 2008 column is entitled Eerie tale from the shafts. He describes how miners get used to working in darkness, with the headlamps on their helmets often the only source of light. But sometimes, he says, it can become quite dreadful, especially when the veteran miners start telling their stories.

"The truth about these stories is uncertain, or it’s just a myth," writes Jentile. In some cases, clearly, they serve the traditional urban legend role of cautionary tale, with miners told not to go deep in unused sites. And falling rocks are not the only danger:

Jalimbo told us about a mineworker who got lost underground for about five days. He said the man was kidnapped by an underground ghost of someone who died there earlier.

The story went: "There are ghosts here, especially in the 'madala site'. I remember this guy who decided to take a short-cut through the unused site to the station. He got into trouble when his headlamp fuel expired and the light went off. He couldn’t move to nowhere as it was darker than the darkness of the surface. The he tried to move slowly on his knees with difficulty.

"Then something grabbed him by the arm. He tried to pull away but the thing held him tight and took him to a certain place where it gave him a shovel and said to him, Hey madoda, you work here, push down the stof rocks and make clean this madala site. But as he started working the ghost gave him a drilling machine to drill the hols on the rock wall. Next it told him to put the explosives in the holes. Afterwards the ghost told him to get off and rest.

"That went on for five days until this man was found by others who happened to go the same way. But he couldn’t speak, and tried to hide behind the timber packs. The men then rushed to alert the mine authorities, who then sent a rescue team to hunt for him.

"They found him and brought him to the surface. What shocked everybody was the writing all over his body. These were money figures in thousands, a message that the mine should pay him, or else trouble will befall the mine. So he was paid and given a permanent discharge."

It is a wonderful tale, worthy of the best of supernatural fiction; little wonder it gripped the imagination of miners. That it is an urban legend is beyond doubt: such an incident, especially involving numerous witnesses and the mine agreeing to pay out a “pension” as a result of it, would not easily be kept quiet.

The archetypal element of the ghost leaving a warning is a plot twist reminiscent of great horror stories and haunting. But to have the warning written into the victim’s skin is priceless; as a cautionary tale, it ensures that it will not be forgotten by impressionable young miners tempted to take short cuts.

  • The publication from which this story is quoted, Homeless Talk, is facing serious financial difficulties. It supports more than 400 homeless vendors who survive from selling the newspaper, and is appealing for public assistance in finance and computer equipment in order to continue helping the less fortunate. If you can assist, phone +27 11 838 6651 or e-mail

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