One day he would steal a man’s horse, on another he would give money to a hard-pressed widow – or join in a posse in search of himself. That was Scotty Smith, a Kalahari crook with a great sense of humour and a love for the high road.

Did you know?

Scotty Smith once earned a decent living as a prize-fighter in New York City.

England has Robin Hood, Australia has Ned Kelly, the USA has Jesse James – and South Africa has Scotty Smith.

Outlaws all, these hoodlums with hearts of gold have captured the imagination of their countries with their exploits, adventures and occasionally outrageous criminal acts.

Scotty Smith’s real name was the rather laborious George St Leger Gordon Lennox. However, in the taverns and gambling dens of the Kalahari, that was just too much of a mouthful – it was all compressed to Scotty Smith.

This Victorian-era crook was a man of many talents. Trained as a veterinarian in Scotland, he shipped out to western Australia to be a gold miner on the goldfield of Kalgoorlie. Then he joined the British Army briefly and was discharged not long after, following a court martial.

Undaunted, Smith came out to South Africa and became a frontier policeman in the Eastern Cape. Pretty soon, however, he crossed the legal line again and turned to gun-running and elephant hunting in the old Bechuanaland – now Botswana.

But it was his incredible love for good horseflesh that made Smith infamous as a rustler. It is said that he even made off with the favourite mount of Lord Kitchener, chief of the British Army, during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War.

Roaming the Northern Cape around Kimberley, Smith also had an eye for a good diamond, and was often involved in dodgy deals at the diggings. Once, when a search party was formed to look for the vagabond, he came up and quietly joined it. Another time, he overpowered a detective who had arrested him and, by virtue of a silver tongue, had the hapless cop thrown into a Kimberley jail.

The legend goes that one night the police raided his campsite, and Smith calmly dropped his stolen diamonds into the kettle that was heating up on his fire. When the water boiled, he went ahead and made coffee for the policemen and himself, with no-one but he being any the wiser.

But his good deeds are also noted. He once paid a poor farmer’s wife the enormous sum of 200 pounds for one night’s accommodation. He stole horses and cash from the rich and occasionally shared some of his booty with the poor.

Smith was finally captured and sentenced to 25 lashes and four years in prison for armed robbery. Somehow, the lashes were never administered and, by all accounts, his time in a Bloemfontein jail was more like a hotel holiday than incarceration.

Scotty Smith ended his days as a respectable old raconteur in Upington, farming vegetables on the banks of the Orange River. His grave is prominently marked in the Upington cemetery and his legend is that of a true brigand: hero to some, villain to others...

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Northern Cape Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)53 832 2657 

How to get here

Scotty Smith’s ranged through the Kalahari semi-desert between Kimberley and Upington in the Northern Cape.

Best time to visit

The Kalahari looks best in the blooms of spring (September – October) and after the rains of autumn (April – May).

Around the area

Why not go on a Green Kalahari adventure in the dune country?

Tours to do

There are a number of good guides offering tailor-made tours of the region – check the listed Northern Cape Tourism site.

Get around

A ‘Scotty Smith Search’ is a great excuse for a self-drive Northern Cape Kalahari road trip.

What will it cost

Guest houses and hotels along your route are amongst the most reasonably priced in South Africa. Expect to pay about R400 to R600 pp per night for bed and breakfast. The transfrontier park chalets start at R900 per unit.

Length of stay

Leave at least five days for your Kalahari road trip.

What to pack

Pack seasonally, informally and remember to throw in your sunblock, camera manual, extra memory cards and camera batteries. During the summer (November to April), the temperatures in this area can be searingly hot, though cool right down at night. In winter (May to August), nights can be bitterly cold, though days are usually warm and mild, so pack accordingly.Pack lots of sunblock and a little something to ward off the evening chill.

Where to stay

Check the listed Kimberley, Upington and Green Kalahari websites for choices of accommodation. Also, if you’re planning to stay in a national park (the Augrabies Falls National Park and the Kgalagadi National Park are in this area), check the SANparks site for availability. Be warned: the national parks are very popular, so book in advance.

What to eat

You’re in red meat country, so your best bet would be to find a good steakhouse in either Kimberley or Upington.

What's happening

There are many events during the year – check the listed websites for details.

Best buys

Try the Upington table grapes in season – summer months of October to April are best for finding these.

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