Rural Botswana is the backdrop for When Rain Clouds Gather, the first novel published by one of Africa's leading woman writers in English, Bessie Head (1937-1986). Inspired by her own traumatic life experiences as an outcast in Apartheid South African society and as a refugee living at the Bamangwato Development Association Farm in Botswana, Head's tough and telling classic work is set in the poverty-stricken village of Golema Mmidi, a haven to exiles. A South African political refugee and an Englishman join forces to revolutionize the villagers' traditional farming methods, but their task is fraught with hazards as the pressures of tradition, opposition from the local chief, and the unrelenting climate threaten to divide and devastate the fragile community.
Head's layered, compelling story confronts the complexities of such topics as social and political change, conflict between science and traditional ways, tribalism, the role of traditional African chiefs, religion, race relations, and male female relations.
Bessie Emery Head was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
In the 1950s and '60s she was a teacher, then a journalist for the South African magazine Drum. In 1964 she moved to Botswana (then still the Bechuanaland Protectorate) as a refugee, having been peripherally involved with Pan-African politics. It would take 15 years for Head to obtain Botswana citizenship. Head settled in Serowe, the largest of Botswana's "villages" (i.e. traditional settlements as opposed to settler towns). Serowe was famous both for its historical importance, as capital of the Bamangwato people, and for the experimental Swaneng school of Patrick van Rensburg. The deposed chief of the Bamangwato, Seretse Khama, was soon to become the first President of independent Botswana.
Her early death in 1986 (aged 48) from hepatitis came just at the point where she was starting to achieve recognition as a writer and was no longer so desperately poor. Most of Bessie Head's important works are set in Serowe, in particular the three novels 'When Rain Clouds Gather' (1968), 'Maru' (1971), and 'A Question of Power' (1973).