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ECCENTRIC SOUTH AFRICA (article first published : 2002-12-30)

Pat Hopkins’s Eccentric South Africa is described as a “celebration of extraordinary people and places”. You know the book is going to be fascinating when you read in the foreword that it is dedicated to a python. This particular python was sold at 10 shillings per foot to one Mr van der Merwe in 1949 who wanted it to guard his house saying that he preferred the company of snakes to that of women. However, the snake didn’t feel the same way about him and sank its considerable fangs into his new master’s left arm and it was with extreme difficulty that the two were disconnected.

Colourful characters included in the book range from the larger-than-life Zebulon Dread and his satirical magazine Hei Voetsek! and Princess Menorah Cohen (alias FNB Vita Award winning performance artist Steven Cohen) to the highly spiritual sculptor Jackson Hlungwani and the legendary Helen Martins who created The Owl House at Nieu Bethesda.

There’s Sarel Pretorius who had never been apart from his wife for longer than five minutes in all their years of marriage so he had her embalmed when she died and built a crypt next to his home so that he could spend time with her. Exorcist F H Havenga, attached to the Occult Unit operating out of the Oasis Christian Counselling Centre in Kempton Park, practises as a therapist specialising in cults and the occult. Multi-pierced Bruce Tait has a skeleton in a tuxedo and a dummy in a nun’s habit in his antique store.

Doona Vos, the “Dark Wolf”, converted to Wicca – an ancient European pagan religion – after curtailing her theology studies and went on to become the first president of the Pagan Federation of South Africa. Pip Kernan has built a Middle Ages styled castle near the Jukskei River and Ron van Zyl lives in a giant shoe, reminiscent of the nursery rhyme ”There was an Old Woman who lived in a Shoe”.

Doona Vos, the “Dark Wolf”, converted to Wicca – an ancient European pagan religion – after curtailing her theology studies and went on to become the first president of the Pagan Federation of South Africa. Pip Kernan has built a Middle Ages styled castle near the Jukskei River and Ron van Zyl lives in a giant shoe, reminiscent of the nursery rhyme ”There was an Old Woman who lived in a Shoe”.

Also featured is KZN artist Sibusiso ”Punch” Mbhele who lives in a massive aeroplane type home which he has built in the middle of a communal grazing area

Published by Struik, Eccentric South Africa retails at R143 and is a fascinating tribute to the kind of people who offer a strong contribution to the complex and multi-faceted tapestry that makes for a dynamic South African culture. - Caroline Smart




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