THERE BE GHOSTS

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					THERE BE GHOSTS

By Paul Hopkins

‘’It’s a great and strange mountain. It is haunted also … and on top of it is a grey peak rudely
shaped like the head of an old woman.’’
 So wrote Rider Haggard in his book ‘Nada the Lily’.

**********
The sun has long settled in for the night when I arrive at my destination, halfway between the
towns of Mkuze and Pongola, off the N2, about three hours out of Durban.
After my long-haul flight, I am tired and emotional, not helped by a delay caused by a broken
fan belt, as I hump my bags out of the 4x4 and walk towards the beckoning light, the only relief
from the pitch blackness that envelopes me.
Haggard’s words come back to me – I had read him, as a child - and I turn towards the
mountain, a large foreboding grey-green hulk, and scrunch my eyes in an effort to make out
the head of the old woman.
She is there alright. Watching me.
‘’Sawubona. Unjani?’’ beams a young Zulu gentleman, as he parts my bags and me and leads
the way.
‘’Ngisaphila ngiiyabonga,’’ I reply and follow him towards the lodge. In the distance are the
chants of Zulu singers and the dying embers of once-glowing fires. A sign over the entrance
reads ‘Ghost Mountain Inn.’
Ghost Mountain Inn has been in the hands of Peter Rutherfoord’s family, some of whom
originally came from Cork, since 1961. In those days it was a small family home, just up the hill
from the lodge. Peter’s father had a chain of SPAR supermarkets, the Dutch company at the
forefront of food retailing in Southern Africa. He travelled over long distances throughout
Zululand, visiting his stores in remote outposts. Every other month or so he would invite the
outpost owners and SPAR reps down to his home for a thank-you drink and a bite to eat.
What should have been a one-night stay often spilled over into a week or more as the drink
and camaraderie flowed freely. Peter’s mother was having none of it. So she built what has
today turned into a 50-room lodge down the hill. ‘’Your friends are welcome to stay,’’ she told
Peter’s father, ‘’but from now they stay as paying guest.’’
Today Peter Rutherfoord, his wife Susan and son, the affable Craig, run this family business.
The four-star Ghost Mountain Inn is a relaxing retreat in the heart of KwaZuluNatal, in the north-
east of South Africa, home to the Zulus, the ’People of Heaven’, who, at 10 million strong, form
a fifth of the sub-continent’s growing population.
It is an ideal spot from which to explore the wonders and beauty of this piece of heaven: the
arresting array of wildlife and coastal reserves, the abundant plants and scenic splendour, the
stupendous sunrises and sunsets, and the warm and intimate welcome (Sawubona) of the Zulu
people.
Bit of a bird fancier? Mkhuze has more than 450 species. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve offers
the chance of sighting the Big Five. The Lake St Lucia World Heritage site offers promises of
hippo and whale spotting, while Kosi Bay with its stunning scenery offers hours of indulgence for
the fishing enthusiast.
Or may be just knock back the sundowners on a boat on Lake Jozini against the backdrop of
an African evening sky.
Whatever your fancy, it is all within easy travel from Ghost Mountain.
My fancy right now is a couple of cold Castle beers. One in hand and one in the back pocket I
join a group of fellow-travellers around a newly-bellowed fire to be entertained by a troupe of
Zulu singers and dancers.
Their articulated antics set the sandy earth flying as their rich, resonant voices reach for the
star-studded sky. The beat of their drums, the glistening sweat of their sinewy muscles, and the
trance-like shadows of their gyrating, pull my senses further into the heady mix of the night.
My first fix over, it is time to eat. Again in the open, I dine on a fine buffet of beef, kudo, ostrich,
and tables laden with spices and fruits and pumpkin and breads of all kinds. And the wine list is
almost intimidating
Hours later my appetite sated and my senses heightened, I head for my accommodation, a
big room, fit for a Zulu king, which is attractively attired in traditional hues and shapes. Here,
everything appeases the senses.
Sleep comes soon but not uninterrupted. I awake, stirred by strange lights and flickering fires.
Through my window I look out. The night is eerie. I look up at the mountain.
 Is that where the lights are coming from? Criss-crossing like dancing fire flames among the
fissures and cliffs at the summit?
I peer into the night. It is full of the distant sounds of Zululand. I hear strange calls and muffled
noises. The sound of crying … lamenting… I shiver but I’m not so sure it is because the night is
cool. The sounds are unfamiliar to me. I cannot make them out.
All I’m sure of is this: they are coming from Ghost Mountain.


**********


Morning has just broken as, with breakfast of banana and cheese on the hoof; I am taken,
watched by curious monkeys, by Jean on a boat out on the Pongola Dam, a man-made
reservoir at the base of Ghost Mountain.
 Jean’s an African, self-effacing with a cutting wit, the daughter of one of the last big game
hunters on this continent.
The weather is warm, a little humid, the sky somewhat overcast as we watch a herd of
elephant come out of nowhere and down to the water’s edge to break fast. Overhead the
African Eagle soars and swoops down to the hippo semi-submerged in their water world. The
Darters, or snake-birds because of their long thin necks, swim ideally by, their bodies
submerged, half-hiding their wonderful black and dark brown plumage. Another endangered
species.
This is perfect peace and wholly invigorating as I sit back to take it all in. And then Jean begins
her story.
Once upon a time, a section of the Ndwandwe tribe, headed by the Gaza family, had their
home beneath this mountain until they were conquered by Shaka, the infamous Zulu chief, in
1819. The head of the family, Soshongane, fled with his followers into neighbouring
Mozambique, where he founded the Shangaan tribe.

From early times it had become customary to bury the bodies of chiefs on the mountain. High
on its slopes there is a cave, used as a tomb by generations of the Gaza family. Soshongane
and his descendants, although they lived many miles away in Mozambique, were carried back
to the mountain when they died.

Their bodies, mummified and wrapped in black bull skins, had to be transported by bearers
who travelled by night and hid during the day to avoid detection by the Zulus.

As we berth the boat and head back to the Inn, Jean tells me that some locals believe that
the Shangaan tribe to this day still bring their dead back for burial on the mountain, under
cover of night. Others believe the spirits of Soshongane and his people still traverse the
mountain summit

‘’And often you can see the light of their torches and hear them waking their dead if you look
up, long enough into the night. ‘’

I know, I said, I know.

And the shiver returns, just before the overcast sky gives way to the brilliant blue of another day
in Africa.

*Paul Hopkins flew to South Africa courtesy of South African Airways




Copyright: Paul Hopkins. For use only with permission

				
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