Praying for Rain


I had been in South Africa for a few weeks, when something happened that made me realise how different the Afrikaner mindset is from the European one.

South Africa is supposed to have its rains in the period from October to March, i.e. their summer, whereas their winter months June to August are normally bone dry. Obviously there are fluctuations from one year to another, and I’ve seen the difference when visiting the nearby Vaal Dam, which could be full to overflowing or less than half full depending on whether the expected rains had arrived or not.

For the first six weeks after my arrival in South Africa I had hardly experienced any rain, which suited me fine (at the time I was traveling to and from work on a pushbike), but it also meant that the 1983-84 summer turned out to be a bit of a drought period. Then one Wednesday afternoon we were told we could go home at 3pm instead of the usual time of 4:30pm. The reason ? To give people there opportunity to go and pray for rain !

I don’t really know how to process this type of behaviour. Clearly, properly religious people must be of a mindset that praying is an effective way to make the deity intervene in worldly affairs, but I’ve never seen it so publicly practiced at any other time in my life.

Presumably, if you believe in that kind of thing, you could then state that prayer works, since towards the end of March it rained non-stop for 48 hours, thereby ending the long hot summer. However, the implication of cause and effect is somewhat reduced if you consider that there was a time lapse of about 5 weeks between the two events.

The strange thing then is that South Africans have a love-hate relationship with rain : on the one hand, they need rain for their country not to turn into a complete desert, but on the other hand, if the sun doesn’t appear for several days on end, they seem to become depressed through the lack of sunshine.

So if you’re praying for rain, do you then specify the quantity and the timing as well, so that you still can enjoy the sunshine you crave so much ?

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