The Legend of the Lost City and Elon Musk

It is ironic that a great part of the cultural history of the Park was founded upon, at best an unproven few paragraphs in a fortune seeker’s book, or at worst a cleverly designed and articulated, deliberate fraud.

It happened like this.
In 1885 a few Bushmen were taken to America as exhibits in a show or circus. They were accompanied by a half Bushman with the name of Gert Louw. Gert acted as their interpreter. He met a Canadian with the real name of William (Bill) Hunt. Bill preferred the nom de plume of Guillermo Farini or even better “The Great Farini”.

Gert and Farini liked each other. Gert told Farini about all the “wonderful and plentiful” diamonds of the Kalahari and of places where one only needed to scratch the surface of the earth to pick up hundreds of diamonds.

Farini then examined the belongings of the Bushmen and discovered some diamonds there. He developed diamond fever and before long found himself with his photographer son Lulu and Gert on board ship sailing for Africa. They first stopped in London for Gert to be presented to Queen Victoria. How this happened is only the first in a series of mysteries.

In Cape Town Farini met a number of other dignitaries and obtained letters of introduction from them. On 2 June 1885 the threesome left Cape Town on a train. At Hope Town they left the train and took a mule car to Kimberley.

From Kimberley they travelled via Campbell and Griekwastad up to Lake Ngami and back. Along the way they experienced a number of weird and wonderful adventures and they collected specimens for scientific research. At Rietfontein they also met Dirk Vilander leader of the Mier Basters and Lulu took some pictures of him. From that the only existing image of Vilander was drawn.

Again they turned northwards, this time to make a serious effort at finding the place of the diamonds, where it was purported the oryx were walking around with blood on their mouths because they were licking a certain hard stone at a certain pan we know today as Lang Rambuka on the Botswana side of the Park.

They never found any diamonds but on their way back, again, they came upon what Farini described in a few paragraphs in his book Through the Kalahari Desert as a Lost City half covered in sand, complete with signs of expert masonry, cement and a paved square with a Maltese cross. 

They lingered for a day or two and then started their return journey. After three days they came to what they termed the Kij Kij mountains, an important marker for all the curious and anxious searchers which followed in Farini’s footsteps over the years.

Eventually they reached Cape Town and sailed north again. On 7 November 1885 Farini announced his great discovery of the Lost City at the Berlin Geographical Society and again on 8 March 1886 in London at the Royal Geographical Society. Later that year his book was published.

Over the years countless expeditions were launched to find the Lost City. One of the first on record was the group of dr Meent Borcherds and FR Paver in 1933. Hot on their heels followed author Lawrence Green in 1936. When Green interviewed Borcherds years later the well respected doctor was still convinced of the existence of the Lost City. He told Green of two farmers who had told him that they also saw the Lost City when they went poaching in Bechuanaland. 

Borcherds also told him of a policeman known to him who had spent a night at the ruins. The policeman also saw a boat in a deep crevice which led dr Borcherds to develop his theory of Lake Ngami being connected by water to the site of the Lost City centuries ago.

At some stage a German architect Ernst Albert Alblath entered the Park with a .22 rifle and 12 cartridges and a donkey mare. He became very hungry and thirsty and when the mare foaled he killed and ate the young donkey and drank its mother’s milk. Joep found him at the Stallasiekolk, gave him food and sent him away with the order never to enter the Park with a rifle again.

A mrs Fransie du Toit was another keen Lost City seeker who even used a Dakota aircraft to search. Elias le Riche remembers one of his flights which took almost eight hours. One day mrs du Toit came to Joep at Twee Rivieren confident that she had found the dam or fountain where Farini had a bath a day after he had left the Lost City. 

Joep enquired about the exact locality of the dam and then said that it was impossible because he knew the dam very well. In fact, he said he himself had built the dam, the St John’s dam at Kij Kij only five years before.

Searches by Herholdt and Daneel in 1949, dr Hjalmar Reitz and mr and mrs Tainton in 1952 and another search in the same year by Frenchman Balsan, and by major DC Flower and his group which included the famous author of Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton in 1956 followed.

In 1950 a Canadian chiropractor, dr Josh Haldeman with his wife Wyn and children Scott, Lynne, twins Maye and Kaye left that country to settle in Pretoria, South Africa. A year later another Haldeman was born, Angkor Lee.

In 1953 he did the first of no less than 16 expeditions to find the Lost City.

It became the family’s annual winter holiday. Wyn would drive with their truck and Josh would fly in his little Bellanca taildragger aeroplane. He landed on Kwang Pan and they camped there on the pan, twenty kilometers north of what is today’s Nossob camp. Haldeman made extensive searches on ground and in the aeroplane but never found any sign of the Lost City.

Dr Haldeman had a friend who he had told of the diamonds. By some unknown quirk his friend came to hear of one Simon Koper, grandson of the famous Simon Koper, leader of the Fransman Namas who fought against the German Schutztruppe in the final battle of the Nama German War on 16 March 1908, another great historical event in the history in the Park.

This Simon Koper had a quarter jar of diamonds for sale for 500 pound. Haldeman’s friend made an appointment with Simon Koper to complete the deal at Union’s End on a certain date. Because his motor car gave him endless trouble he arrived at Union’s End two days late. The caretaker at Union’s End then told him that a group of Namas had been there two days ago but left after a day. Haldeman said that his friend had spent the rest of his life wondering what it would have been like to be a rich man.

Haldeman never found the Lost CIty but unfortunately lost his life in a flying accident in 1974.
Many people decry Farini as a fraud and a crook, but others point out that there is not one single shred of evidence of him lying or deceiving anybody. 

The specimens he presented to the world’s scientists certainly afforded him some credibility. His credentials were good enough to launch more than 20 expeditions, led by people such as dr Haldeman, dr Borcherds, Lawrence Green, Alan Paton, dr Hjalmar Reitz and other intellectuals. All of them made extensive studies of Farini’s book and remained convinced of the veracity of his claim.

There is no person in the world with more flying hours over the Kalahari than Elias le Riche with his 5000 hours. He and his brother and father before him also spent thousands of days patrolling the area pinpointed by Farini during the course of their regular conservation duties, yet they never found it. All the le Riche’s were unanimous in their denial of the existence of the Lost City. 

Upon reflection one can understand this. None of them would have wanted to see large scale tourism to a rediscovered Lost City, complete with souvenir shops, ice cream stands and restaurants in the middle of the sacred Kalahari wilderness. Even if they did find it, one can only hope that they would never tell anybody, including me.

Haldeman’s daughter Maye married a man called Errol Musk. They had a son whom they called Elon who became the owner of companies such as Space X and Tesla. In a strange way the Haldeman legacy ended well.

Dirk Vilander. This image was drawn by someone according to the photographic image recorded by Lulu Farini.
Dr Josh Haldeman's Bellanca aeroplane on Kwang Pan 25 kilometers north of Nossob. Haldeman undertook no less than 16 expeditions to find the Lost City of the Kalahari.
Kwang Pan today, a major source of water for Nossob Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Deur: Koos Marais
Ander verwysings na Koos Marais:
Books can be ordered from
See Koos Marais Category below for all related items

Book: History of the Kgalagadi National Park