Stone-throwing poltergeists fascinate me. In late 2017 I visited Zimbabwe to investigate two active stone-throwing poltergeist cases: one in Chinhoyi and another in Buhera. Africa appears to be ground zero for active poltergeist cases.
While preparing an article on my visit I came across an earlier South African report from the Hobart Voice (Tasmania, Australia) of 21 February, 1942. What surprised me was the similarities to the Zimbabwe cases over 75 years later, which I will cover in more detail in a later piece. I’ve included some photographs from my 2017 visit with the original text of the 1942 report.
The 1942 case was investigated by a South African police officer although the exact location isn’t mentioned. The article also details another contemporary story from Newcastle, a city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, that was covered in the Johannesburg Star.
Try and ignore the author’s condescending tone.
The Mystery Of The “Flying Stones” (By “SWAZI”)
A weird story related by a South African police officer, who, in accordance with Service regulations, wishes his name to be suppressed. The author vouches for his facts, which are further verified by the magistrate who accompanied him on his investigation, while extracts from newspaper reports give further details of this most puzzling affair:
The average reader, whose activities have confined him to uneventful life in towns, and who is unacquainted with the natives of South Africa, may regard the following account of an odd happening in the course of the writer’s duty with scepticism. All I can say is that I vouch absolutely for the truth of the narrative, but I hesitate to offer any explanation concerning it:
At the time the incidents occurred I was stationed at a village near the centre of Swaziland, in charge of a small police post. In this position I was continually being brought into contact with various phases of native superstition. The people were childlike in their simple beliefs, and their blind faith in the powers of their witch-doctors was pathetic. These gentry claimed to be able to control the forces of good and evil, and their fees, though usually based on their victim’s ability to pay, were exorbitant enough.
I had so often seen the alleged ‘results’ of the wizards’ occult labors exploded in court that I not unnaturally refused to credit the stories of their uncanny powers that superstitious natives were continually telling. I believed the witch-doctors to be cunning rogues, and nothing else. Then the incident I am about to relate occurred and after that I was not quite so sure!
Just prior to the time when the affair happened a group of natives appeared at the court-house to make a complaint. As officer in charge, it was my duty to investigate, report, and, if necessary, take action. The spokesman was an old headman. I will not set forth his rambling story in detail, but it appeared that a certain Nkunzi, a witchdoctor, had attempted to appropriate some cultivated fields that were lawfully the property of a widow. For some time she resisted his efforts, and at last, in exasperation, he vowed he would set evil spirits to haunt her until, her life became impossible. Spite of the dread threat, the woman refused to abandon her gardens, and Nkunzi apparently decided to forfeit his claim, for nothing further was heard of him, nor was he seen at his accustomed kraal.
The respite, however, was short-lived. A few days later the widow was stoned by some unknown, and, in the absence of Nkunzi, attributed the assault to spirits. Wherever she went, the headman asserted, stones fell round her and things had now come to such a pass that the poor creature was compelled to remain indoors. Even there she was not left alone; during the night her clothes were snatched away from her by unseen hands and although she had made every attempt to catch the culprit she had been unsuccessful.
NATIVES BLAMED WITCHCRAFT
The natives were convinced that witchcraft was at the bottom of all the trouble, but as I did not believe in that agency I decided to seek some more tangible cause. Accordingly I dispatched two native constables with instructions to watch carefully in order to ascertain who was responsible for the stone-throwing. The following day the constables returned and gravely reported that they had actually seen stones falling, but could find no person who threw them. Annoyed that they, too, should have been influenced by the natives tales of witchcraft, I determined to investigate myself. I notified my decision to Mr. X — , the Resident Justice of the Peace, and he, scenting an adventure, agreed to accompany me.
To ensure the capture of the culprit, when discovered, I took with me four native police and stationed them at points of vantage round the kraal where the stone-throwing was said to take place. These men were so placed that they commanded a view of every approach to the hut of the woman concerned. The R.J.P. and myself took up our positions with the group of natives at the kraal. I watched this party carefully, for I felt sure that one of them must be responsible for the scare.
Within a few minutes after I took my post a small stone dropped at my feet. Thereupon I studied my native companions closely, but presently, though I am positive that not one of them lifted a hand, another stone fell in our midst! Pebbles continued to descend in this manner, the strange thing about it being that they sometimes came from the front and sometimes from the rear of me. Calling in the four native police, I learnt that they had seen nobody.
My next plan was to institute a close search of the ground surrounding the kraal. We went over it most thoroughly, but at the end of an hour we were beaten. There was not a hole or an undulation that we had not explored, and throughout the search stones continued to rain upon or around us, but we could find no clue to the thrower. The missiles were usually small — too small to do any real damage— but the fact that no agency could be found to account for them was decidedly disturbing.
During the better part of the day we tried every scheme that might offer a solution, but eventually I had to admit I was beaten, and we returned to camp without having solved the mystery. The stone-throwing continued for several days after our visit and then ceased — but not before the widow had decided to abandon the place! I may add that during my own investigation I had taken the precaution of locating Nkunzi and placing him under observation. His own kraal was some distance away, and I am certain he had no direct hand in the throwing of the stones.
A VERY PERPLEXING PROBLEM
In submitting this account I also attach extract from the ‘Star,’ a leading Johannesburg newspaper. Reading these in conjunction with my own experience, readers will find themselves faced by a very perplexing problem.
The first cutting reads:
“Residents of the Northern Natal town of Newcastle have been mystified by reports from the farm Sterkstroom, owned by Mr. Jan Adendorff, fifteen miles from the town. The story, which is vouched for by the owner, of the farm, is that large stones were seen to rise mysteriously from the earth, fly in the air, and drop in various directions. Four native huts on the property were also completely gutted by fire, one after the other, in the presence of onlookers, but no one could form the least idea as to how the fires originated, as not a single human being was to be seen in the vicinity of the burning huts.
According to some residing on the farm, a native female employed there must be bewitched. Wherever she walks stones rise around her and fall on to her clothes. Mr. Adendorff has given graphic details of the mysterious occurrences to friends in Newcastle. “The stones got up and flew about,’ he said to one interested listener. ‘I cannot account for it; it must be witchcraft.’
Mr. Adendorff is over sixty years of age and is well known throughout the district. Sergeant Moore, of the Newcastle Police, was sent to the farm following the report of the burning of the huts. He was, however, unable to solve the mystery of the conflagration.
The isolated position of the farm has not prevented the spread of sensational reports of what is said to have occurred there. Throughout the district there are many people who attribute the whole affair to witchcraft, but there are quite as many who are suspicious that some person has been hoaxing the farmer and his family.
The second report is too long for reproduction in full, but the following extracts — written by a member of the “Star” staff who’ visited the district specially and interviewed all the people concerned will serve to corroborate and amplify my own statements:
“The old native woman against whom the attack appeared to have been specially directed has got such a fright— in addition she has wounds on the head and legs — that she bolted into her hut and secured the door immediately she saw a little group of us approach the kraal. It was only with difficulty that she was persuaded to come out again. Satisfied, however, that she was in no danger, she crawled out into the sunshine and, with many expressive gestures, told how when washing clothes in a pool the stones suddenly sprang out of the bank and rained upon her. During several nights stones, clouds of dust, and sometimes water poured in through the roof of the hut. This continued for some time, but although, search was immediately made, no human being was found outside.
NO HOLE IN THE ROOF
The headman, who had all this time been anxious to have his say, intervened to draw attention to the nasty bruises on his ankles, caused, he said, by ‘the flying stones.’ He also displayed a bowl with a large hole in the centre. One night, he said, when he was supping porridge, a big stone dropped from the roof. He examined the roof at once and found to his surprise that there was no hole in it through which the stone could have been dropped.
Mr. Adendorff has been twenty years at Sterkstroom. He is well known throughout the district and has for many years been an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church in Newcastle. He is over sixty years of age, and he and his family are firmly convinced that witchcraft was practised. Apart from the stone-throwing, mysterious fires, apparently breaking out spontaneously, burned down several of the huts in the kraal — each fire starting inside!
Mr. Adendorff says that water had no effect upon the flames, and so the amateur firefighters beat the blazing huts with sticks. This appeared to extinguish the fire, but when they moved on to deal with the outbreak in another hut flames again sprang up. This was the experience at the five huts involved, and despite every effort all were burned to the ground.
Another remarkable incident reported by Mr. Adendorff occurred some hours after the fire. A girl (who was believed to have been bewitched) was standing in the ruins of one of the huts when all around her the earth seemed to crack and a cloud of dust rose into the air and fell upon her. Mr. Adendorff, who had kept a close watch upon the girl, says he then saw a big flat stone – two inches thick and six inches square – spring out of the ground, crash through the branches of a peach-tree, and fall upon the head of the old native woman who was also in the kraal, some distance away. By this time, however, the old woman had taken to wearing a ‘helmet’ of corrugated iron, and she was unhurt, although slightly stunned by the force with which the stone rattled upon the iron.
The old woman had received a wound on her head a few days earlier, and Mr. Adendorff’s daughter-in-law said that when she rushed out with a bandage blood was ‘running down between the old woman’s shoulders.’ What makes the whole affair all the more remarkable is that Mr. Adendorff, his married sons, Albert and Frederick, and his daughter-in-law all claim to have seen the flying stones. Mr. Adendorff, indeed, at the end of each day described in his diary that day’s incidents. He early became suspicious that a young native girl – she is believed to be about fifteen years of age – was in some way involved in the mystery, and he kept her under observation every day.
STONES JUMP INTO THE AIR
On no occasion did Mr. Adendorff see the girl touch any of the stones. “I was soon satisfied,” he said “that the girl was not playing any tricks upon us.” All the same, I asked her if she could explain what was happening, and she immediately burst into tears and cried: “Baas, I cannot help it.” She appeared to be going out of her mind. Visitors to the farm are shown stones which the Adendorff family and their natives saw hurtling through the air, water-carrying vessels which were shattered by stones’ the charred ruins of the five huts, and the wounds sustained by the natives. To the suggestion that a stone-thrower might have been in hiding there is the emphatic statement by Mr. Adendorff that on several occasions he saw stones lying at his feet jump into the air.
A Johannesburg ‘Star’ reporter later visited the kraal with a number of prominent residents of Newcastle, including the Mayor, hoping to see and investigate further manifestations, but they were informed by a witch-doctor that nothing further would happen as he (the wizard) had driven away the evil spirit which had caused all the mischief.
The journalist continues: “While at the kraal I had a conversation with Mr. W. Goodwin, Jnr., the son of the Mayor of Newcastle. Mr. Goodwin has a farm in the vicinity of Sterkstroom, and he told me that when he heard the first rumors of the ‘flying stones,’ he ridiculed the idea. Next day, however, he visited the kraal, and he assures me that he was greatly surprised when a shower of stones fell as from the sky.”
“Mr. Goodwin related his experiences to his father, and the Mayor had to confess that the whole affair baffled him. Mr. J. N. Cook, a Newcastle attorney, who was. among the visitors, remarked that the evidence pointed to witchcraft or hypnotism having been practised at Sterkstroom Farm and also at the kraal. Mr. Seager the station foreman at Ingogo, told me that he had visited the kraal while the stone-throwing incidents were in progress and that he had himself seen the stones hurtling through the air.”
Source: Hobart Voice (Tasmania, Australia), 21 February, 1942