'Did you hear that?' - SA ghost hunters look for clues in hollow rooms

Rivas Bright, 39, founder of the ghost hunter's group 'The Upsidedown', listens to a radio frequency meter inside an abandoned building at one of the top South African university campuses while looking for signs of paranormal activities in Pretoria.
Rivas Bright, 39, founder of the ghost hunter's group 'The Upsidedown', listens to a radio frequency meter inside an abandoned building at one of the top South African university campuses while looking for signs of paranormal activities in Pretoria.
Michele Spatari, AFP
  • A paranormal group operates in Pretoria.
  • They search for ghosts in abandoned buildings.
  • They employ technology to catch ghosts.

Shortly after nightfall, flashlight in hand, Rivas Bright knocks twice on the broken window of an abandoned building in Pretoria.

"Still!" he tells his fellow ghost hunters. They hold their breath, waiting for a response from the shadows.

It's been around two years since Bright, 39, set up "The Upsidedown" a group of paranormal enthusiasts hunting ghosts in a bid to prove they are real.

It's a daunting task, given spirits are proverbially evasive.

"It's a broken science," Nigel Mullinder, 29, a member of the team who during the day works at a casino, says of the study of paranormal events, which has drawn the interest of researchers and parapsychologists but produced little hard evidence.

READ | Husband's 'ghost' allegedly drove a woman to confess to killing, dismembering him

Bright and his team of "sceptical believers" - five men and two women - have turned to tech to solve the mystery.

Armed with an arsenal of tools including infrared cameras, motion and heat detectors, radios, and a self-developed app to uncover paranormal activity, they scout haunted buildings looking for clues in cavernous hallways and rusting stairwells.

Mullinder says:

(We) need a set of evidence that would allow us to prove that it's not just the wind (blowing) through the window or a door closing because of some sorts of vibrations.

This night they have come to an abandoned building within the campus of one of South Africa's largest universities, which asked not to be named.

Night guards here have been spooked by creepy noises.

Lucy Tsoeu, 46, says slamming doors and the clacking of a typewriter at night have led her to believe a ghost is hanging about.

Her colleague Mpho Mthombeni, 30, says he has heard toilets flush and felt a strange presence when there was no one about.

"What can I do? Do I pray, or shall I speak louder to scare them away?" asks Tsoeu.

"Maybe they'll be able to cool them down," she says of the ghost hunters, half worried and half excited.

Sporting a grey T-shirt over black trousers, a shaved head and pierced ears, Bright, a retail chain store employee, says he has heard strange sounds and seen sinister shadows since a very young age.

"My mother would claim to speak to spirits" in her kitchen, he says.

Since he founded "The Upsidedown", the group has gathered a few thousand followers on social media, spent several thousand rand on equipment and searched about a dozen premises, following tip-offs from anxious locals.

At the university building the group checks every room, placing their detecting tools on a floor covered with dead leaves.

"We are literally a bunch of guys that stand in the dark, ask questions... and follow red and green blinking lights," quips Bright.

Bright rings a bell to signal to the ghosts that he wants to talk to them - but there is no reply.

Bright says:

We are not here to hurt anybody or remove you from that place. All we're looking for is answers.

Gunshots echo in the distance. Pretoria is the capital of what is considered one of the world's most dangerous countries.

"Did you hear that? I could clearly hear someone call my name," says a member of the team. It's hard to corroborate.

As the hunt goes on, others in turn sense a movement or hear a sigh.

The group, made up of white, middle class South Africans, has been to this building once before a month ago.

Then, its members say they communicated with the spirits of children in a room that was used as a makeshift morgue during violent riots in the 1980s.

Mullinder tries to get in touch again, listening to a radio frequency meter while blindfolded.

Everything is filmed to capture potential evidence. But the result is inconclusive.

"I can understand why people would think we are crazy, but when we finally get that unsolvable massive piece of evidence... who's the crazy one then?" says Bright.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.