She sold a number of the cattle her father had left her and set up her little detective agency near Kgali Hill, on the edge of Gaborone. She had no idea of how to be a private detective, but she managed to get hold of a manual by one Clovis Andersen. This book, The Principles of Private Detection, became her main guide, even if a lot of the advice it gave struck her as being merely a matter of common sense. Incidentally, I am often asked by readers where they can purchase a copy of The Principles of Private Detection. I reply that the book does not exist, which I think causes them disappointment. Perhaps I shall write it myself. Certainly, in a future book I shall write about a visit that Clovis Andersen makes to Botswana. Mma Ramotswe will meet him and will, with her characteristic kindness, do something to help him. I see Clovis Andersen as a bit of a failure; he may be able to write about being a private detective, but I suspect that he will never have been very good at the job.
Mma Ramotswe acquired an assistant, Mma Makutsi, a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College who, in the final examinations of that college, achieved the hitherto unheard-of result of 97 percent. That 97 percent is of immense importance to Mma Makutsi, and she often refers to it. She represents all those who have had to battle to get anywhere in life. She comes from a poor background in the north, and she has had to make do with very little in the material sense. She is a resourceful and intelligent woman, however, and in the later books she finds a kind and wealthy fianc'e, Phuti Radiphuti, the proprietor of the Double Comfort Furniture Store. Mma Ramotswe likes Phuti. She sees him as an entirely suitable husband for her assistant.
Mma Ramotswe’s husband is Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and the finest mechanic in all Botswana. He is a good man, but he has certain minor failings, one of which is indecision. It took him a very long time to get round to marrying Mma Ramotswe. Indeed, it was not until the fifth book that this happened, and prior to that I had received many letters from readers inquiring as to why the engagement was proving to be such a long one. But they did eventually get married, in a ceremony performed at the Orphan Farm, with the children singing the hymns and the women ululating with pleasure.
The newly married couple moved into Mma Ramotswe’s house on Zebra Drive. They are extremely happy: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni running his garage and she helping people to solve what she calls “the problems in their lives.” These are often minor personal issues, although every so often something more serious crops up. Mma Ramotswe does not deal with significant crime, however; she is concerned with minor instances of bad behavior, and she usually deals with the offender by getting him or her to promise to behave better in future.
Is life really like that? Do people turn over new leaves and reform simply because they have been shamed into doing so by a woman like Mma Ramotswe? Probably not. One has to be realistic about human nature, which is often quite perverse. At the same time, Mma Ramotswe understands that you do not get people to be better people simply by punishing them. Those to whom evil is done do evil in return. W. H. Auden knew that and expressed the thought rather effectively in one of his poems.
Mma Ramotswe believes in forgiveness. “I am a forgiving lady,” she says in one of the books. Again, she is very wise. Forgiveness is a great virtue, which unfortunately we may sometimes lose sight of when retribution holds center stage. But we really should be readier to forgive people than to hate them or seek to harm them. Forgiveness allows us to look to the future rather than concentrate on the past. Forgiveness heals.
One of Mma Ramotswe’s great heroes is Nelson Mandela. Mandela, perhaps more than any other figure in the twentieth century, showed us all how forgiveness can bring an unhappy chapter to an end. Mma Ramotswe understands that. So we should not be surprised when she lets people off. That does not mean that she condones what they have done or underestimates its impact. It is just that she sees the sterility of pure retribution. She does not believe that we are helped by inflicting further suffering where there has already been significant pain and distress. I think she is right.