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an excerpt from a novel WHEN THE RAIN CLOUDS GATHER by Bessie Head

Chief Sekoto was a very charming man. His charm

lays not so much in his outer appearance as in his very cheerful outlook in life.
He was so fond of the sunny side of life that he

was inclined to regard any gloomy, pessimistic person as insane and make every effort to avoid his company.
Every weekday morning, he listened to cases

brought before his court while the afternoons were spent at leisure.

This Monday morning, a case was in session when

he saw his brother Matenge parked his car near the place where court was held.
Nothing upset him more than a visit from his

brother whom he classified as belonging of the insane part of mankind.


He planned to delay the proceedings for the

possibility of his brother to be bored and leave, so he turned his full attention to the case at hand.

The case has been brought in from a village called

Bodibeng and all of its people had come to witness the trial.
A woman named Mma-Baloi was charged with

allegedly practicing witchcraft and had been said to cause the sudden deaths of a number of children in the village.
Another evidence had been presented to show that

she was also capable of the sudden death of a strange young woman who died in her home several days ago.

Chief Sekoto was silent for some time, amazed of

the never ceasing insanity of the village people who have been threatened with fines by the president of the court because of the burst of loud chatter.
At last, he turned to the accused old woman and

said Well, mother, what do you have to say in defense of yourself?


The old woman defended that she is not a witch,

even though she was called the mother of the witch. Long ago, she was taught by the people who live in the bush how to cure ailments with herbs and that was her business.

Chief Sekoto then ordered Mma-Baloi to let him

see the contents of the bag she had with a great show of interest.
He examined the various dried leaves, roots and

berries leisurely, taking a closer look on it, thus making the crowd silent, puncturing in the hole of their confidence.
The old woman proceeded with her defense telling

the court that she knew nothing about the deaths of the children in their village.

She also added that she was innocent for the

death of the strange young woman who died in her home . That the woman was grievously ill, that while they were discussing about her ailment , the woman fell dead at her feet.
Chief Sekoto sympathetically understands Mma-

Balois statement and then asked the crowd who issues the certificates of death in Bodibeng.
A doctor was fetch from the Bodibeng hospital.

Although delayed for two hours, the court remained in session.

At one stage, Chief Sekoto received an impatient

note from his brother begging him for a few moments to discuss an urgent matter.
But he replied: Is it life or death? I am at a

moment faced with the life or death of an old woman. I cannot move.
The doctor arrived with his brief evidence and

point. Child deaths in the village was caused by pneumonia and the young woman had died for a septic womb due to having a procured abortion with an unsterilized instrument.

After all that had happened, Chief Sekoto passed

the judgment of the case, telling the village people that they were suffering from derangement of their brain. That their children have died from an illness and that to shield themselves from blame, they instead accused the poor old woman for a serious crime she even didnt do.
A punishment had been laid upon the village

ordering the people to fine each household on beast and the money that arises out of the sale of these beasts will be used to purchase warm clothing for the children so that they may no longer die of pneumonia.

As for Mma-Baloi, she was told not to live with

the villagers anymore but instead, she was offered to live on Chief Sekotos house for protection and also to help him treat his ailment because he was tired of the penicillin injections and perhaps her good herbs may serve the cure to his troubles.

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