on 29 October 2007
Naldei Chaba is a lawyer who works for the Bana-Bantle Children's Agency in Botswana. The agency has long since expanded from the rights of children. They also assist women who have to navigate Botswana's legal system.
The book is a series of vignettes set around a main story. All the stories centre around women facing legal problems. The author, Unity Dow, is Botswana's first female High Court judge and has made a name for herself dealing with human rights issues, particularly in relation to women. Botswana is a very young country still trying to come to terms with the modern world. That is where the main interest in the book lies. How to reconcile a modern British Justice system with old traditional ways and still achieve justice for women is what makes THE HEAVENS MAY FALL so interesting.
There is the rape of a 13-year old mute girl. Naleda tries to fight the prosecutor's feelings that as the girl cannot talk she cannot give evidence. How about the American woman pestering Naleda wanting to sue the local hospital for giving her the wrong tablets, causing her to wet herself on safari ? A perfect illustration of old meeting new is the case of a woman seeking an injunction to force her husband to have a ritual cleansing because his mother has sent a "thokolosi" (A thokolosi is similar to an evil spirit) to repeatedly rape her of a night. The husband is refusing because he cannot believe his mother would do such a horrible thing and he wants a divorce. Which will prevail? Old customary law that decrees that the husband must undergo the cleansing or common law which doesn't recognize the existence of thokolosi?
Unity Dow writes with an obvious love of Botswana but she is not blind to its flaws. You can't help feeling that the stories Dow tells are probably based on her own personal experiences with the Botswanan legal system and that Naleda's fight for justice for women and children mirror Dow's own.
Up until now, the literary world has known Botswana through the delightful stories of Alexander McCall Smith and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Comparisons between the two authors are inevitable. Both have chosen a similar structure in their books. Both love the country. However, McCall Smith's Botswana is idyllic and Dow's acknowledges that there are problems to be overcome. The authors make an interesting contrast and perhaps the truth of Botswana lies somewhere between the two. With Dow's emergence I hope that more Botswanans are encouraged to write about their country and give the rest of the world a clearer picture .