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WHEN RAIN CLOUDS GATHER (article first published : 2006-01-31)

Director Khaya Ngema is to stage an adaptation of Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather in Verulam in February and intends taking the production to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July to appear on the fringe.

Now being given the proper acknowledgement due to her as a major role-player in the literature of South Africa in the 70’s, Bessie Amelia Emery was born in a Pietermaritzburg mental hospital in 1937. Her mother was white and from a well-to-do family and had been committed to the institution so that she could give birth to the child without anyone’s knowledge. Her father was a black stablehand.

Bessie’s initial adopted (white) parents rejected her when they noticed her dark complexion and she was fostered by a coloured family before being placed in an Anglican mission orphanage in Durban. After high school she trained and worked as a primary school teacher before becoming a journalist. She married journalist Harold Head in 1962 and gave birth to a son. Two years later, she separated from her husband and left South Africa with her son for Serowe in Botswana. She had been refused a passport and left the country on an exit permit which meant she was unable to return to South Africa. Poverty stricken, she spent fifteen years in a refugee community.

When Rain Clouds Gather was published in 1969, a year which marked the onset of mental illness from which she recovered in 1970. Her most famous work, Maru, was published a year later. A stage adaptation by Walter Chakela of this novel was presented as a schools’ touring production by the Playhouse Company in 1995.

Bessie Head was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Gabarone in 1973 after the publication of her third novel A Question of Power. Without requesting it, she was granted Botswanan citizenship in 1979. She died of hepatitis in 1986 at the age of 49, having published a collection of short stories, The Collector of Treasures; a social history, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind, and a historical novel, A Bewitched Crossroad.

Khaya Ngema has composed the music for When Rain Clouds Gather and describes it as a mix of rhythm and blues, African traditional music, kwela and the Sophiatown sound. The musical features ten performers.

When Rain Clouds Gather will run from February 7 to 14 at the Mount View Hall in Verulam. Tickets R10 booked on 083 523 1221 or 073 550 4680.




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