Waiting For The Rain Book Discussion

Waiting For The Rain by Sheila Gordon is a fictional story that takes place in apartheid South Africa.  Before kids read the story they should have some background history on South Africa so the story makes sense.

Background On South Africa

In the late 1600’s the Dutch began to settle South Africa, at first as a stop along the trade route to Asia and after for the land and diamonds of South Africa itself.  Others including French, Scandinavians, English, and Germans immigrated to the area.  The Dutch East India Company owned the land and governed it as well.

This is a map showing where South Africa is located in the world. CC license, Wikimedia.

A private company turned government was a common arrangement during the colonial times.  The Dutch however ran into an unusual problem.  The Company had not subdued the natives as the British did in Indian.  The land did not attract thousands of settlers on its own as in North America.  And the neighboring peoples would not freely trade as in China and Japan.  There was shortage of labor and food.  So the Dutch East India Company told some of its people that they could have free land to farm if they would raise food for trade and be self sufficient.  Many took them up on the offer of simultaneous freedom and riches.  These were called the Boers, Dutch for farmer.

This is a family of Boer farmers from South Africa. This picture was taken in 1886. The colonization and settlement of South Africa by Europeans began in 1657.  Public domain.

The Boers were a mobile, free spirited people.  They believed fiercely in the Bible and their version of God.    They were completely self-sufficient and very strong willed.  As they moved further and further inland they met with resistance from tribes already inhabiting the land.  In most cases they traded and bought land, though it is unlikely that the natives had the same understanding of the deal as the Boers did.  In some cases they fought and killed the natives to protect their lives and take land for their own families.

This is an illustration of a battle from the first Boer war. public domain.

By the end of the 1700’s the Dutch power was ending and the British moved in to fill the void.  The British were not understanding of the free wheeling Dutch settlers. The English idea of good government was order and properly paid taxes.  The differences between the city British and the country Boers grew when the British abolished slavery in 1834.  The Boers had seen blacks as inferior in the eyes of God.  They saw a people that God had cursed and ordered to be servants of the whites; not an uncommon view in this world.  Various groups through history have held similar views toward other groups they wished to have power over.

The Boers left British domains near the southern coast and trekked inland to escape British governance. Public domain.

But by the 1800’s this idea of black inferiority was fleeing fast.  The Boers were behind the times and suffered for it.  The Boers entered on the Great Trek in protest to the governing British and left en masse to move further north.  The Natives they came across had just gone through a brutal war between two different African Kingdoms and were in no fit state to resist the new wave of disturbers.  The Boers never had slaves again, but the blacks they employed as “servants” were slaves in all but name, only possessing nominal protection of the law and a small amount of freedom.  The Boers and British fought back and forth for many years with the African tribes, especially the Zulus wreaking havoc as well on both the Boers and the British.  It wasn’t until 1909 that the country was a united political body.  Segregation, severe taxes and removal of blacks from property ownership was a key part of the government set up.  In Africa this severe repression was called apartheid.

Book Discussion

Read Waiting for the Rain by Sheila Gordon.  This book is a fictional account of two boys, one white and one black, who live through apartheid and the tumultuous times in South Africa when it was on the wane.  Perfect for middle school and up.

Discussion questions for after you have finished reading:

  1. Which characters in the book did you like? Why?
  2. Which characters did you not like? Why?
  3. The blacks and the whites viewed the same event, the Boer Migration, in very different ways. How can one event have such different interpretations? How can you know what the truth is about historical events?
  4. Why did the whites in South Africa make such discriminatory laws against the blacks?
  5. Both Tengo and Frikkie experience fear in the book. What do they fear?
  6. Why do people fear others who are different? Do people fear individuals or groups or both? What do people fear in society today?
  7. The Boers used the Bible to excuse their behavior toward the blacks. How can religion be used to justify wrong behavior?  Does that make religion bad?
  8. Different people thought the solution to the problems in South Africa would come in different ways. Some thought peaceful protests were best while others thought violence was the only way. Which way do you think works best? Think of examples from history of both methods to force change.
  9. The book ends without resolving the problems. Do some research and find out what happened in South Africa. Do they still have problems with race?
  10. The Boers did some things that were really bad, like taking land, fighting unjust wars and enslaving people, but they also were kind to their neighbors, brave, loved freedom, sacrificed for what they believed in and cared well for their families.  Why is it that people can be so good and so bad at the same time?  Are we all like that to some extent?

You can also print out the Waiting For The Rain Book Discussion guide, which includes the questions and also the historical background information.


Additional Layers

  • Diamonds and gold brought many people to South Africa to seek their fortune.  Learn about diamond mines.  The deepest hole in the world is a diamond mine in South Africa.
  •  In the story Frikkie and Tengo are friends at first, but Tengo realizes their relationship isn’t equal.  What makes a person a good friend?  Why is it important to have equal relationships?
  • Color a map of European Colonization of Africa.
  • The more people live self sufficiently the less they feel the need for government.  Do you think the opposite is true?  Why do people need government at all?
  •  What is the definition of slavery?  Does a person have to be called a slave to be one?

More From Layers of Learning

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Learn more at our curriculum guide.

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