In 1977, I was a signaler (radio operator) in the South African Army, the infantry. I was stationed in a camp called Mpacha, which was a few hundred yards from the border of Zambia in the Caprivi Strip of northern Namibia. When we signalmen weren’t on patrol, we had shifts in the Mpacha base underground bunker running the radios. There were three different transmitters and receivers. One was a powerful unit that could have transmitted around the world, the second was strong enough to reach the command units in Namibia, the neighboring bases (quite far away) and the air force, and the third just talked with the patrols dispatched from our camp and always nearby. The shift was 12 hours, and it involved constant hourly communication and checking in.
It was lonely late at night, and often my mind used to wander, particularly about those ridiculous and horrible circumstances. The Caprivi is a dense thorn tree desert, but there were seasonal torrential rain storms. One Saturday night (or early Sunday morning), I was on duty and the rain came pouring down. There was no danger of officers popping in unexpectedly, or patrols being active. I took this opportunity to fiddle with the big radio set. By chance, I found an American music channel. The deejay was black, and I have to think later, it was broadcast from the south of this country. He played the old Brook Benton record of Rainy Night in Georgia. It was a lifesaver.
There was always a disturbing rustling underneath the radios, not far from the operators’ legs and feet. I mentioned it to the Sergeant-Major and he finally took action. They found a nest of black mamba snakes (an entire family) living behind the batteries that ran the radios. Black Mambas are amongst the most venomous snakes around. At high speed, a black mamba can reach about 15 mph. Poisonous snakes were common in that neck of the woods. Puff adders, lazy but also deadly, enjoyed the seclusion of foxholes and were partial to warm spots like sleeping bags or recently worn boots.
Anyway, there are a number of worthwhile versions of the tune about it raining in Georgia. One is the original by the song’s author Tony Joe White, a white swamp rat blues rocker from Arkansas, and the other by Brook Benton, a black soul singer from South Carolina (see the links below). Brook had a huge hit with this. That night these soul men took the bite out of the dual officer and snake threat and helped ease the misery.