Coun­try’s most haunted site

Lo­cal ghost­busters have heard voices, blood-cur­dling screams at the Cas­tle, writes REBECCA JACK­MAN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

IF YOU’RE still se­cretly en­am­oured with the cult-clas­sic 1980s supernatural com­edy Ghost­busters, where men in over­alls bran­dish­ing plasma ray guns and ghost-suck­ing vac­u­ums say proudly “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts”, you’ll def­i­nitely want to know that real-life “ghost­busters” ex­ist – right here in South Africa.

As for “who you gonna call?”, that would be the team of para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tors at the South African So­ci­ety for Para­nor­mal Re­search (SASPR).

So­ci­ety founder Mar­ius Nien­aber says he grew up in a house where para­nor­mal hap­pen­ings like “haunt­ings and such” were not seen as strange. In his fam­ily, ex­pe­ri­ences with haunt­ings and spir­its were com­mon­place, and open com­mu­ni­ca­tion was en­cour­aged.

He be­lieves there are many peo­ple who have strange things hap­pen­ing to them, or around them, but that with­out any­one to talk to, the in­for­ma­tion is lost.

So it was with that in mind that he founded the SASPR in 2006 so those with a scep­ti­cal au­di­ence would have some­where and some­one to turn to.

He says he wanted to “help peo­ple un­der­stand what may be hap­pen­ing around us”, and “knew (what) it must feel like to have th­ese things hap­pen­ing to you and not have any­body to talk to, or to go to for help”.

The team is based in Gaut­eng, but is happy to help any­one in South Africa with any para­nor­mal ex­pe­ri­ences.

Not ev­ery­one is up to the task of be­ing a para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tor, as the job can be quite gru­elling, with one in­ves­ti­ga­tion last­ing up to eight hours of search­ing for ev­i­dence. Af­ter that, comb­ing through the au­dio and film footage can take a fur­ther eight hours. And Nien­aber said most in­ves­ti­ga­tors work solely over week­ends as they have full-time jobs dur­ing the week.

Other than be­ing will­ing to log long hours on the job, the only re­quire­ment the so­ci­ety has is “a keen sense of ad­ven­ture, and pas­sion for the para­nor­mal”.

The so­ci­ety gets around three calls or e-mails from the pub­lic ev­ery month, which it says keep it very busy on week­ends. It also con­ducts in­ves­ti­ga­tions in mu­se­ums and is at­tempt­ing to fol­low the route that the Kruger mil­lions are be­lieved to have trav­elled.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors gather in­for­ma­tion for each case by re­search­ing a site, in­ter­view­ing ten­ants and neigh­bours, and stay­ing at the site overnight to record any sounds or sight­ings with in­frared cam­eras and elec­tronic voice phe­nom­e­non record­ings. Af­ter their in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plete, they of­fer house cleans­ing and spir­i­tual help.

The most haunted venue in South Africa, Nien­aber says, is right here in Cape Town – the Cas­tle of Good Hope – which has a long his­tory of sus­pected sight­ings and strange oc­cur­rences.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors from his so­ci­ety have in the past heard “blood-cur­dling screams” within the cas­tle walls, as well as “voices and many many foot­steps and shad­ows”.

“Cape Town Cas­tle is well known for the fact that it is the most haunted venue in South Africa, fol­lowed by the Kemp­ton Park Hos­pi­tal,” Nien­aber says.

Week­end Ar­gus vis­ited the cas­tle with Willem Steenkamp, for­mer jour­nal­ist and ex­pert on the his­tory of the cas­tle and its other-worldly in­hab­i­tants.

Vol­un­teer ghost hunters Ashleigh Wichman, 17, and Zoë Frantz, 16, came along in the hopes of see­ing a ghost, but Steenkamp ex­plained that it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see.

“Very late at night when it’s very quiet you can hear the Cas­tle groan­ing,” he said, adding that th­ese sounds can be eas­ily ex­plained by the fact that the build­ing “set­tles” into the ground. But what he can’t ex­plain away is doors and win­dows qui­etly open­ing them­selves, dogs bark­ing, or sight­ings of peo­ple who ap­pear only to van­ish mo­ments later.

His con­nec­tion to the cas­tle dates back to an an­ces­tor who was a sol­dier there in 1696. And Steenkamp served with the Cape Town High­landers, who were closely as­so­ci­ated with the cas­tle.

Cap­tain of the Cas­tle Of Good Hope, Fran­cois Morkel, says he doesn’t be­lieve in ghosts, but rather in the “spir­i­tual side”.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence was about 15 years ago, while do­ing duty at the cas­tle.

“It was a pleas­ant sum­mer evening in De­cem­ber and I was do­ing my rounds be­tween the Leer­dam and Buuren bas­tions, when I sud­denly felt as if I walked into a cooler in the vicin­ity of the Bell Tower. It lasted about two min­utes and it was over.”

Morkel didn’t think much of the mys­te­ri­ous chill at the time, but later he found out that, in the 18th cen­tury, a sol­dier had com­mit­ted sui­cide by hang­ing him­self on the bell rope.

Derek Wil­liams has worked at the cas­tle since 1981 and has heard all the sto­ries, but hadn’t had any per­sonal spooky ex­pe­ri­ences un­til just last week.

He and his daugh­ter were sleep­ing at the cas­tle to over­see a group of boy scouts. Wil­son was in a sep­a­rate room away from the oth­ers. He closed all the doors and left one light on. There was no wind.

In the morn­ing, he saw a heavy door, lead­ing only to an al­cove, stand­ing wide open. No one else had ac­cess to that area apart from him.

But Steenkamp doesn’t be­lieve that any bad spir­its dwell there.

”As far as I’m con­cerned it’s a friendly old place.”

PIC­TURES: TRACEY ADAMS

PARA­NOR­MAL: Willem Steenkamp knows the cas­tle bet­ter than most and can tell you ex­actly where to search for its other-worldly in­hab­i­tants.

JULY 20 2012

GHOST HUNTERS: Ashleigh Wichman and Zoë Frantz in the tor­ture cham­ber at the Cas­tle of Good Hope where those be­ing held were tor­tured into con­fes­sions.

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