The magic man of South Africa

Last week I posted about a few South African folklore, and I thought I’d do the same this week. Well, technically ‘folklore’ is not the right word to use because of the definition (official definitions, who needs them?). But here is the legend of the magic man of South Africa from the eighteen-hundreds.

Hendrik Schoorbek/Skoorbek/Spoorbek

Heinrich Schörbeck was a German man who moved to South Africa around 1811.1 Afrikaners of that time could not pronounce his name and Afrikaans-ified it to Hendrik Schoorbek, Skoorbek or Spoorbek (Hendrik is a common Afrikaans name). He went by a few surnames, but I prefer Skoorbek.

Enigmatic magic man

He’s quite the mysterious figure and known as a magician, healer and seer (I don’t want to use the word ‘prophet’). He was unmarried with no children.1

Allegedly, he was a sailor who deserted his post. He lived on a farm near Humansdorp in a small cottage, and ground wheat for the community.1,2 

Some people of that time referred to him as ‘Witte Krag’ (White Might). The kids of the area were afraid of him, because of his untidy appearance (long beard, curly hair, wearing rags) and mostly kept to himself. However, he was known as a kind-hearted man and rode a white horse.1 

As mentioned, he had magical healing powers and travelled around and helped the settlers and locals by healing and protecting them with these powers. Interestingly, he never took payment for his services.1

Fire on the roof

One specific incident stood out. During a visit to Kerkplaats (Alexandria), the Xhosa people waged war in the area and set the town’s buildings alight. The townspeople took their last refuge in the schoolhouse. Skoorbek reassured the townspeople that the roof of the building would not burn. Even after hours of thrusting flaming arrows and pieces of wood at the straw roof of the schoolhouse, it did not burn. After these many hours, the Xhosas retreated. The schoolhouse stands to this day.1,2 

Many years later, the town wanted to renovate the schoolhouse and make it an official museum. They took down the old straw roof. Even years after Skoorbek’s death, the straw would not burn. They had to bury it.2

Other powers

Legend has it that Skoorbek could make water run uphill, and in that way, he helped the farmers of his area with the irrigation of their lands.1,2 

Transporters of that time also consulted Skoorbek to protect their oxen from theft and predators. He drew a circle around the oxen, and they were safe within that circle the entire night. Nothing went in or out of the circle. The animals would only leave the circle if Skoorbek himself led them out.

Some of the Voortrekkers also asked the help of Skoorbek and he gave them ‘charms’ to protect them. Most of the time, these were just pieces of paper in a satchel—kind of spooky.1,2 

Apparently, Skoorbek quite accurately predicted events that would take place long after his death like the Anglo-Boer war, the Spanish flu, and the invention of trains and aeroplanes.1,2 

Skoorbek also had the cunning ability to make people freeze (it sounds weird, but bear with me). If he was out, at a friend’s house or whatnot, he could sense if someone was in his house, stealing from him. He would then make the intruder freeze in place and stay transfixed until Skoorbek got there and would release them with a touch.1,2 

Where did he get his powers?

Many have wondered and theorised where Skoorbek got his powers and Skoorbek himself (apparently) said that he brought a book of magic with him to South Africa. However, it was lost not long after his arrival. He lost it after he got too drunk one night and lost his treasured book.2 

Others say his powers are because of the mysterious flower ‘Faroblom’. This flower apparently only blooms one hour of the night, once a year.1,2 

He died in 1845,2 but he remains a mysterious figure to this day.  


What do you think about old Skoorbek? Do you have similar stories in your country or culture? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



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