The Jan Smuts House Museum in Irene.

It sounds ridiculous. A paranormal themed dinner at the last home of former South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts - accompanied by a seance and Vaudevillian cabinet show.  

Maybe you'd be lucky enough to contact Smuts from beyond the grave and ask him some flippant questions. "So Jannie: Dlamini Zuma or Ramaphosa? Favourite Gupta brother? How 'bout that Black First Land First?" At the very least, maybe he could explain why his wife, Isie, never made him shave off that damn goatee.

How could you not be curious?

Event organiser Mark Rose-Christie


For the past 17 years, event organiser Mark Rose-Christie has tried to spread his love of the paranormal countrywide. His famous - or infamous, depending on who you ask - ghost tours of South African cities have been popular enough to keep him swathed in Victorian costume for almost two decades. The Mystery Ghost Dinner is the next step in his supernatural studies, with the privately funded - and seemingly cash strapped - Jan Smuts House museum in Irene providing a sufficiently creepy venue. By day, it's a tribute to Smuts, his family and his time as a Statesman, military leader and philosopher. By night, it's a solid spot for Rose-Christie to serve up his unique, over-the-top brand of theatre and a three course meal of Eyeball Soup (dumplings in a chicken consomme), Braised Ghoul Shank (lamb shank and vegetable ragout) and Devil's Food Cake (Cape Brandy pudding).

At first, it's hard to stifle your giggles as Rose-Christie welcomes the guests with a piano medley taken straight out of Phantom of the Opera. He's the only one in full costume. A top hat, cloak, bright purple cravat and a look on his face that shows that even if his audience isn't in the mood, he certainly is.

But as he pounds the keys of Isie Smuts' piano, you start to notice the animal skulls, the antique weapons and portraits of dead-eyed families from eras past. There's one particularly unsettling framed photograph of a young Queen Elizabeth II and her family staying at the Smuts family home, and she looks as though she really did not want to be there.

Armed with his flashlight - a ghost-story-telling-essential - Rose-Christie informs the crowd of the half-dozen or so people known to have died on the property. The psychically sensitive who have stayed at the home have claimed sightings of a woman in 1800s boere attire, her mouth caked in blood. Various paranormal investigators have found evidence of the spirits inside, he says, particularly those who photographed the darkened guest rooms. Orbs of energy have supposedly been spotted, and echoes of a woman saying "perd... perd" have been recorded. From a less enthusiastic host, the room would be the centre of an epic group eye-roll, but it's hard not to get caught up in Rose-Christie's delivery.

If you're a believer, you may be creeped out by his tales. As a sceptic, he's entertaining as hell.

One of the rooms in the house


"Those of you who are sceptics will become believers!" he booms, asking his audience to explore the creaking building and take plenty of photographs. Maybe he's hoping his audience will also see some spirits, or at least some orbs.

Sadly, none were spotted by the Saturday Star, and it's unclear if any sceptics became believers, or vice versa.

While it's impossible to write about the seance without spoiling its impact, what can be said is that it's unlikely we'll ever know Smuts' opinions on FeesMustFall. The spirits of the house are surprisingly good at parlour tricks, and who knows if they were the ones responsible for a glitch in the performance where the museum's fire alarm tripped?

The cabinet  act functioned as a showcase of the talents of Rose-Christie's son, Kyle Basson, whose deadpan facial expression is the perfect contrast to his father's flamboyance. For those attending in the future, remember you may be asked to become a somewhat awkward part of the act, though that's clearly part of the fun. Having to tie up one of your hosts as he tries to emulate Harry Houdini could be a highlight for some.

As the alcohol flowed and the camp factor continued to rise, both acts appeared to be well-received. During the sitdown dinner - complete with cobwebbed candelabras and antique tableware - it became apparent the event had attracted some unusual clientele. Jaco Du Plessis, medium, telepath, psychic and plumber, said he had already seen numerous spirits in the house just a few hours into proceedings. The 46-year-old said he had already communicated with two little girls who had died in the house, as well as an elderly woman he believed could be Smuts' mother or mother-in-law. Sitting in the Smuts' living room, Du Plessis said the conversations manifested as whispering, the spirits themselves difficult to see without extreme concentration. "It's like looking through a mist, or from your peripheral vision. You need focus to be able to communicate with them," he said.

"Ghosts aren't scary. Yes, they can be malevolent, but usually there isn't anything to fear," he said. For Du Plessis, "awesome" shows like the Mystery Ghost Dinner could help people come to terms with their fear of death, as they make the paranormal easily accessible.

Camp-enthusiast, Hertzog van Heerden, was also pleased with the experience. When asked how he would rate the level of theatricality, he described it as "a scintillating seven out of ten". Speaking about Rose-Christie: "Initially I had to giggle a bit, and his approach is so dramatic and full of grand gestures, sweepings and flourishes, that you're almost dumbstruck. But then you get into it and it's very endearing. He's a very entertaining man and he takes his craft very seriously."

Rose-Christie's foray into fine-dining was not about turning a massive profit, he told the Saturday Star, but rather to help keep the Smuts House museum alive. With fewer visitors in recent years, the privately funded museum has struggled. "This is an opportunity to remind people of what a beautiful spot it is," he said. And yes, he did get permission to play the Smuts' antique piano.

For those interested in attending the show, contact Rose-Christie on [email protected] or visit http://mysteryghostbus.co.za/dinners.html