By Jeremy Lovell
Cape Town is selling its ghosts to finance its future.
South Africa's top tourist destination is pulling out all the stops in a bid to polish its bomb-damaged image and make sure the money-spinning foreign tourists keep flocking to its multiple attractions.
Tourism is one of the city's and South Africa's top foreign exchange earners, and planners are pinning their hopes on the industry becoming the magic solution to an unemployment rate running at close to 30 percent.
Cape Town's wine and whale routes are already established must-dos for visitors.
But the city's tourism authorities have now come up with 16 others ranging from an adventure and sports route to a museum route for the more cranially-inclined.
"Everybody knows of our icons - Table Mountain and Robben Island. We want to broaden people's understanding of what this destination has to offer," Cape Metropolitan Tourism development manager Nombulelo Mkefa said.
"The idea is to make Cape Town an all-year-round tourist destination, not dependent on the weather," she added.
Among the more bizarre of the new attractions on offer is the Ghosts and Legends Route which leads the occult-inclined tourist around the city, down the Cape Peninsula and out east into the winelands.
The brochure lists ghosts ranging from a nun to hanged men, star-crossed lovers and shipwrecked sailors.
The ghostly story behind the famed shroud of cloud - known fondly as the table cloth - that frequently covers Table Mountain is also included.
Fable has it that the cloud is actually smoke from a smoking competition between local pirate Van Hunks and the devil himself in a contest for possession of Van Hunks's soul.
There are tales of weird footsteps, objects moving, paintings that cannot be photographed, icy blasts, faceless monks, ghostly horsemen and apparitions of pretty young women who occasionally turn up at parties and chat with the guests.
On the edge of the winelands in the sleepy town of Somerset West there is even a bewitched stretch of road where cars apparently roll uphill unaided.
"We hope tour guides will make use of these brochures to incorporate in their tours, or tourists can even make the journey themselves using the information in the brochures," Mkefa said.
But she burst out laughing when asked if she expected tourists to turn up at people's front doors and ask to see their ghost.
One of the features of the tour is Somerset Hospital in the city's Greenpoint area which proudly boasts it is the oldest hospital in southern Africa as well as the first teaching hospital.
"Oh! I am told there are lots of ghosts here. But you would expect it in a hospital this old," Medical Superintendent Ria Kirsten said, admitting that she was not aware that her establishment was being used to market the city.
"Maybe we should think of appointing a ghostly tour guide," she mused.
She even has a somewhat blurred photograph of the hospital's star ghost - a blonde girl combing her hair - standing at a top window of a tower in part of the original hospital building erected in 1859.
"People working in one of the wards at night have said they can see someone sitting in a chair because they can see the cushion indent but no one is there," she said.
"People have also seen shadows and heard music and the lift moving without anyone pressing the buttons. Matron said that as a young nurse here she heard footsteps behind her but no one was there," she added.
Cleaner Goodman Charlie said there were four big - and racially representative in that one is white, one coloured, one black and one Muslim - ghosts that stalked the corridors at night.
"One yells at me to buff and polish, buff and polish," he said, adding that this particular ghost was a black man named Thick John.
Particularly ghost infested are two of the older wards - Parsons and Lady Loch. Both have now been closed because of a shortage of funds and staff.
"They were always the worst. Patients and staff have seen lots of ghosts in those two wards," hospital official Kevin Smith said.
Lady Loch - formerly a children's ward - has an even stranger story.
Its walls are covered with nearly 70 oil paintings with scenes from pastoral, biblical and fairy tales by mostly unsigned artists painted directly onto the plaster and now in danger of destruction from damp.
"We don't know who did them or why. But maybe the ghosts like them and that is why they come here," Kirsten said. - Reuters