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When Rain Clouds Gather

Bessie Head

Theme: Triumphing over Hatred and Ignorance
Grades: Grades 9-10

Fleeing the violence and oppression of South Africa in the mid-1960s, Makhaya crosses the border into Botswana. Here he finds himself in a poverty-stricken rural village—a place very different from his native Johannesburg. It is a time of great change for Botswana, as the country approaches independence. Along with an idealistic English agriculturist, Makhaya becomes involved in the villagers' struggle to adopt new agricultural techniques. In doing so, the community must overcome rigid customs, a corrupt local chief, and the unrelenting climate. Makhaya must struggle too against the bitterness and hatred within him that are a legacy of his life in South Africa.

Note: This novel refers to situations and topics that some readers may find objectionable. You may wish to preview the novel before assigning it to your students.

  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Apartheid.
    Sharing information about South African apartheid laws and policy should help students understand Makhaya's frame of mind and the source of some of his inner struggles. Have students work together in small groups to share their knowledge about apartheid in South Africa. Encourage them to list what they know and to save their ideas for later reference.
  1. Women in Africa.
    Have students go to a library and research the role of women in both traditional and contemporary African societies. Different groups might focus on such topics as employment, family structure, and status. Have students report their findings back to the class.
  1. Women in Botswana.
    What is life like for women living in Botswana today? What kinds of professions do they pursue? What are the living conditions in the cities? In the villages? If students can't find information specific to Botswana, they can look for any current information about African women. Have students research and then present their information as a panel.

  1. Calling All Volunteers.
    Have students work in small groups to research the organizations that have sent volunteers to Botswana since the 1960s. Have them find out the names of the organizations, their purposes, their countries of origin, and whether they still send volunteers to southern Africa. Then have each group create a brochure to present their information.
  1. Before Independence.
    Have students write a research paper on the history of Botswana before independence, focusing on a topic such as one of the following: the influence of the Dutch and the British; the significance of Britain's protectorate; the missionary influence; and Botswana's attitude toward refugees.
  1. Apartheid's Legacy.
    Although apartheid has been dismantled, its legacy still has an impact on South African society. Have students research the effect of this legacy in South Africa today. Suggest they find recent newspaper and magazine articles that describe South African politics as well as living conditions.