THE MARRIAGE YEARS OF SERETSE KHAMA (1945-56)
by Neil Parsons
Text extracted from preliminary draft typescript towards publication of Seretse Khama 1921-1980, by Neil Parsons, Thomas Tlou & Willie Henderson (Gaborone: Botswana Society & Johannesburg: Macmillan, 1995), revised as pp.61-152. Reproduced here to meet interest raised by the movie A United Kingdom (directed by Amma Asante, 2016), starring David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama and Rosalind Pike as Ruth Williams. It is reproduced here without source notes.
Glosssary || Marriage: 1948-50 || Banishment: 1950-52 || Exile: 1952-56 || Councillor: 1956-60
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B.P. : Bechuanaland Protectorate (Botswana)
Bangwato : aka Bamangwato etc. people of the largest district within the B.P.
Batswana : aka Bechuana, people speaking Setswana or Sechuana
Bogosi : governance or kingship
Commonwealth Relations Office (C.R.O.) : British ministry for the Dominions
District Commissioner (Serowe) : British colonial administrator for Bangwato district
High Commissioner (Pretoria) : Senior British administrator in all of Southern Africa
High Commission Territories : Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland, and Swaziland
Mafeking : administrative capital of the B.P. (a few miles inside the Union of South Africa)
Kgotla : public court or forum
Kgosi : Chief or king
Resident Commissioner (Mafeking) : Senior British colonial administrator for the B.P.
Seretse Khama (1921-80) : born to be Kgosi of Bangwato
Serowe : capital of Bangwato
Tshekedi Khama (1905-60) : Regent for Seretse (1925-50) until he completed his education
Union of South Africa : white-ruled Dominion, part of the British Commonwealth until 1961
Arrival in England
Seretse Khama boarded a ship at Cape Town on August 28th, 1945, to sail for England. Victory in Europe ('V.E.') day marking the defeat of Germany had been celebrated on May 7th. Victory in Asia had been achieved on August 14th, and 'V.J.' (Victory against Japan) day was to be celebrated on September 2nd while Seretse was on the high seas. The country that Seretse was sailing to had been effectively bankrupted in 1941-42, the terminal date of an economic and imperial glory which we now know began to decline and to be overtaken by Germany and the U.S.A. at about the time when Seretse's grandfather had sailed to Britain in 1895.
By 1945 Britain been exhausted by the Second World War but, unlike other countries in Europe, not largely destroyed. It was a country where the public mood was now to look to reconstruction and a more humane 'new society' in the future. Hence, on July 26th, the British electorate had voted in a Labour government under the premiership of Clement Attlee, rejecting the Conservative alternative under the wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Seretse's ship docked in the great, grimy, north-west English port city of Liverpool. The port facilities of Southampton on the south coast, to which Cape and Indian Ocean ships ran in peacetime, still lay largely in ruins from German bombing. We can only guess Seretse's thoughts on arriving. No doubt they included the shock, common to African visitors both black and white, of seeing an army of white (maybe in truth grey-faced) dock workers flooding onto the ship to perform tasks of manual labour which were reserved for people of colour in the colonies. No doubt Seretse also had cause to reflect on the novel dialect of English spoken in Liverpool, as he negotiated himself and his baggage onto the train for London.
There was no one to meet the steam train which arrived at London's Euston railway terminal a few hours later. The Dominions Office [later Commonwealth Relations Office] in London knew of his arrival, but it was the responsibility of the London Missionary Society (L.M.S.) to meet him, and to take him to the home of Dr Harold Moody at 164 Queen's Road, Peckham, in south-east London, where he was to stay for a few days. Moody was a black Briton who combined leadership of his community with respectability and refinement in the eyes of the establishment. His son had had the wartime experience of stepping off a ship in Cape Town and having to be sheltered from local colour discrimination by his fellow army officers.
More used to the telegraph than the telephone in Africa, Seretse cabled his host in south-east London from Euston station. The L.M.S. sent a scion of one of its southern African mission families, Rev. Cocker Brown, to take Seretse from Euston to Peckham.
Seretse had arrived during the week of the 150th anniversary jubilee celebrations of the London Missionary Society—a strange coincidence as his grandfather had been the star-guest fifty years earlier at the L.M.S. centennial jubilee in 1895. Seretse therefore found himself lionized on arrival in London. He was put in the charge of Rev. Maurice Watts, since the L.M.S. had been assigned the task of guardianship of Seretse while he was in Britain by his uncle. Seretse was formally introduced to the jubilee meeting of the L.M.S. board of directors and was taken to a service of worship celebrated, somewhat mysteriously for a predominantly Congregational organization, at Westminster Abbey. He then had tea with the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House in the City, and was taken to address a large meeting of L.M.S. jubilee celebrants at the Holborn Hall. All these engagements happened on the same day. It is scarcely surprising that he soon wrote complaining to his uncle: 'Ever since I arrived in England I have been addressing one meeting after the other, so much that I am now anxious to be at Oxford'.
Balliol College in Oxford
At the beginning of October, 1945, Seretse was admitted to Balliol College at Oxford. Balliol was regarded as the most elite college at England's most elite university, producing the intellectual cream of the country who displayed 'effortless superiority'. Seretse was allocated, as his academic adviser, Professor Reginald Coupland , a friend of [Tshekedi's Cape Town lawyer] Douglas Buchanan . Coupland was the doyen of historians of British imperialism. Coupland's main work was a moralizing study of the Anti-Slavery movement that gave rise to the quip of A.J.P. Taylor that British imperial historians were chaplains on the pirate ship . Coupland took to Seretse immediately: 'What a very good sort he is. I am sure he is going to get a lot of good out of Oxford', he wrote to Buchanan.
But Seretse ran into immediate problems with his registration for a B.C.L. degree. Once again, Latin reared its ugly head. Coupland, by all accounts a rather confused character, was not prepared to press the case for Seretse's course in Romano-Dutch being a substitute for Latin as a prerequisite. The subject which had given him nightmares since Tiger Kloof days now threatened to dog his plans for legal training ever after. Seretse responded practically, proposing to hire a private tutor to cram the required Latin into him. Tshekedi encouraged this. But Coupland advised Seretse to do P.P.E. ('Modern Greats') instead of a B.C.L. This degree had been designed after the First World War specifically for students without knowledge of Greek and Latin. It consisted of courses in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
Buchanan expressed misgivings, stressing that the future ruler of the Bangwato needed legal education rather than the generalised training of the mind being recommended. Seretse needed the legal skills to interpret proclamations, statutes, contracts, concessions and so on, without resort to the specialized advice of lawyers. Tshekedi's opinion was sought, and was forthright and emphatic. He cabled his nephew: 'continue with your B.C.L. for a while before changing to P.P.E.'
As a compromise, Seretse's tutors agreed that Philosophy be dropped in favour of Law in his 'Modern Greats' programme of study. The Law course would not require Latin, and would deal with contracts and interpretation of statutes. In December 1945 Lindsay, the Master of Balliol, informed Tshekedi that his nephew would study Law of Contracts as his principal subject, sitting the examination in June 1946. His subsidiary subjects would be Politics and Economics to be examined in June 1947. The whole course would earn Seretse a Bachelor of Arts degree in two years. (His previous B.A. giving him a year's credit off the usual three years.)
The plan was for Seretse to join one of the Inns of Court in London concurrently, spending 1947-48 preparing for the final Bar examinations. Thus he would emerge as a qualified barrister with an Oxford B.A., and could return to Bechuanaland at the end of 1948. Seretse himself thought the timing rather optimistic in preparation time for the Bar exams, which might last until 1949 instead of 1948, but he was determined to stick out the course.
The prestige of his uncle as an enlightened and progressive ruler ensured that Seretse was soon invited to the homes or college rooms of prominent academics such as Margery Perham and Alan Pim , the imperial economist who had toured Bechuanaland in 1932. Seretse was also regularly invited for weekends at the house of Douglas Buchanan's brother John, at High Wycombe on the road to London. Getting to know fellow students was more difficult. As Lady Khama now puts it, during his first term or so at Oxford Seretse found the English the dullest and most unfriendly people he had ever met. When the nights grew longer and skies ever greyer, Seretse became miserable in an unfamiliar climate that was damp as well as cool. College rooms were cold and there was a lack of heating because of coal shortages.
It soon become apparent that there were two different but equally alien groups of undergraduates at Oxford. (All the students were male in the central colleges; there were a few women's colleges on the periphery.) One group was of recent school-leavers, usually products of upper class education and expectations, who might be opinionated but were entirely lacking in experience of a wider world. The other group of undergraduates was of men more Seretse's age, by no means all upper class, who were being rewarded with university education for their war service. Their experience of life, and certainly of death, was in many ways deeper than Seretse's. But Seretse was precluded from their company at first, because of his lack of war service about which he could swap reminiscences. He hated his first term at Oxford, and by Christmas was deep in the pit of 'culture shock'.
It was his sporting prowess and growing love of jazz that enabled Seretse to break through social barriers during his second term at Oxford, in early 1946. He discovered other fans of traditional jazz through Jelly-Roll Morton to Count Basie—but never warmed to the insipid big band sound of Glenn Miller. He also had the chance to show off his prowess at soccer, followed by athletics and boxing and the English upperclass sports of rugby and, by the third term, cricket.
Already a fan of English and Scottish soccer teams while back home, Seretse could now follow their fortunes as a radio fan. His team was the 'Wolves' (Wolverhampton Wanderers), though he never bet on either horses or football. He also joined friends on the spectator terraces of rugby and soccer matches, and attended meetings of all political parties represented at Oxford—except the Conservatives, thus avoiding any encounter with the future Margaret Thatcher. Seretse's closest friends proved to be intellectuals rather than sportsmen— John Zimmerman , another Jewish 'outsider', and a socialist aristocrat by the name of Tony (Wedgwood-) Benn whom he mockingly addressed as 'My Lord'. Another friend was a young don called Roland Brown , who was later to make his name as the man whose report helped nationalize Zambia's copper mines in the 1960's.
Just before he was about to take his first examinations in Law in June 1946, his tutors dropped the bombshell that Seretse's programme of study was not valid under university regulations. The exemption on Latin and Greek was only valid if he had done military service; and he needed a 'modern' (i.e. European) language such as French, German or Spanish to the Economics course, which in any case would earn him only a diploma and not a degree. Seretse, unsurprisingly, was in despair over having wasted so much time on a wild goose chase, but was still determined to return to Bechuanaland with a professional qualification at all. He decided to abandon Oxford and to study for the Bar exams in London instead. It would take at least two years to qualify as a barrister, possibly years three to eat the required number of dinners at an Inn of Court also demanded to qualify.
Tshekedi and Buchanan were furious with Balliol and Oxford in general, and with Coupland in particular. They felt that Oxford should get Seretse out of the 'mess' it had put him into. They still wanted Seretse to continue at Oxford, as they believed that London with its numerous distractions was not conducive to study. Coupland for his part blamed changes in university regulations: on the question of military service he had assumed that every young man in the Empire below forty years of age had done his duty. It might be possible for Seretse to complete a B.A. in Economics and Political Science in one year, with the help of Messrs. Fulton and Allan as sympathetic and liberal-minded tutors. But Seretse had tired of the general degree, and was disposed to take the advice of other dons that it would be best to go straight to the Inns of Court in London, where he could sign up a tutor to coach him through the Bar exams.
Ever mindful of the needs of bogosi [governance or kingship] as the Kgosi of the future would need to be the leader of progressive agriculture, Tshekedi arranged for Seretse to spend the summer vacation of 1946 on at a voluntary work camp on a dairy farm in Northumberland. He worked as an unpaid farm hand during July-August and enjoyed the experience immensely among ordinary farm labourers and student volunteers. Such summer farming camps had developed out of the voluntary tradition of 'digging for victory' during the War.
At the end of the summer vacation, Seretse abandoned Oxford over the continuing protests of Reginald Coupland, and moved himself to London to study for the Bar. As ever he had taken time to make up his mind, but was quite determined once he had done so. Seretse registered for studies at the Inns of Court (Inner Temple), and he took up residence at a hostel for colonial students, Nutford House on Brown Street near Marble Arch.
* * *
Seretse joked to his uncle that he should qualify as a lawyer so he would have a profession if South Africa took over the B.P. and abolished the chieftainship of the Bangwato. The serious news behind the joke was that General Jan Smuts , prime minister of the Union of South Africa, expected the British to hand over the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Swaziland) as a reward for his services in the War. The obligation seems to have been conceived very much in personal terms. Prime minister Clement Attlee of Great Britain, who effectively ran British policy towards India and the white Commonwealth, saw Smuts as a special case for reward. Smuts had actually sat in Britain's War Cabinet with Attlee. The high point of his prestige had come in 1945 when Smuts drafted the founding document of the new United Nations organization—the Preamble to its Charter, full of high sounding phrases like 'inalienable human rights'.
The question of the transfer of the Territories to the Union had been raised in the Westminster parliament by the Labour M.P. Tom Driberg in January 1946. By April 1946, possibly as a result of communications between Tshekedi and its leader Dr A.B. Xuma , the African National Congress was using the issue as another stick to beat on the doors of the South African government. Then, in April 1946, Attlee sacked his junior minister for Commonwealth relations, John Parker , in deference to Smuts for having dared to oppose transfer in principle. Parker's concern was particularly focussed on Basutoland , the most populous of the Territories. He saw transfer as betrayal of the African soldiers in the Territories who had served the Empire in the War. Seretse was of course well aware of as much of this as appeared in The Times and other newspapers.
Bechuanaland troops of the African Pioneer Corps came to England to march in the Victory Parade through the streets of London during 1946. Seretse showed some of them round London. The British Army was in the process of recruiting soldiers for the new High Commission Territories Pioneer Corps, to serve in North Africa and Palestine, because of the previous success of troops from the Territories in wartime service. This and the row over Parker helped to stave off the South African threat to the Territories, but the corps was ultimately dissolved in 1949 because of South African government objections to having 'armed natives' over its borders.
The Inner Temple & Nutford House in London
By July 1947 Tshekedi was writing gleefully to the Rev. J.H.L. Burns , former L.M.S. pastor at Serowe now living in Edinburgh:
I heard from Seretse lately...he has done well so far. He has passed his examinations in the Law of Torts, the Law of Contracts, Roman Dutch Law and Roman Law. He hopes to take his final examinations some time next year in Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. He hopes to return to South Africa during the year 1949.
Seretse's hard work in the 1946-47 academic year had paid off. He had also blossomed in other respects because of his move to London. Nutford House and the Inns of Court gave him cosmopolitan connections with fellow students from Africa and Asia and the Caribbean. At Nutford House, Seretse moved easily between Caribbean and West African majority groups of students who were sometimes at enmity with each other. The only other Southern Africans at Nutford House were Northern Rhodesians (Zambians). Seretse shared a room with one of them, whom he had met in 1945 on the boat from Cape Town. The leader of the Northern Rhodesians was the rumbustious Harry Nkumbula , a student at the London School of Economics. Not far from Nutford House, in the rather run-down inner suburb of Brondesbury, there was also a physician named Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda , who had left Nyasaland (Malawi) many years previously but now kept open house for students from Southern Africa. Seretse's closest friends at Nutford House included Charles Njonjo from Kenya, who joined him after graduating from Fort Hare in 1946, and Forbes Burnham from British Guiana (future prime minister of Guyana).
Pan-Africanism' had taken fire among students of African descent in Britain after the (5th) Pan-African Congress, with delegates from Africa and other continents, held at Manchester town hall in October 1945. Seretse had missed out on the excitement during his year at Oxford, but his 'Africanist' background at Fort Hare enabled him to get back into the swim of ideas. The coming together of so many students from the colonial world, at a time when India was advancing rapidly to independence, and while the heady enthusiasm of the Labour government for setting up a Welfare State in Britain persisted, made a profound impression on Seretse. It is not clear of one can call him either a nationalist or a socialist at this stage. But—as Lady Khama now puts it—he invariably became involved with political opinion left of the Conservative Party.
Seretse developed his taste for jazz still further, building up his own collection of jazz records. It seems to have affected his language too. He used to refer to jazz as 'sweet, sweet music.' He also continued to go alone in the afternoons or early evenings to cinemas showing cowboy and detective films, as well as reading such literature in cheap paperback editions. But he still had no time for classical music, nor much for live theatre except when comedy or thrillers were being staged. Musical shows, apart from 'Porgy and Bess', left him cold.
So-called Negro popular music and jazz had become more popular than ever in Britain during the latter part of the Second World War, visibly reinforced by the presence of African-American soldiers. The millions of American servicemen in Britain in the latter years of the war had excited a mixture of admiration and jealousy, usually summed up as 'over-paid, over-sexed, and worst of all over-here'. In the case of African-Americans this had brought out the contradictions of their being racially segregated within the U.S. Army. Racial consciousness in British urban society had been raised by an incident in 1944 at the Russell Hotel, near the University of London and General Eisenhower's headquarters bunker, when the African-Caribbean cricketer Learie Constantine was refused accommodation there—on the grounds that it would offend the hotel's white American clientele.
Black people in Britain continued to suffer casual discrimination, particularly in finding accommodation. But some of the Negro showbiz glamour also rubbed off, in the eyes of the British public, on the West Indian workers and West African students who began to flock to Britain from the colonies after the War.
Seretse was taken in hand on behalf of the L.M.S. and Tshekedi by Dr Roger Pilkington , a distinguished geneticist at London University. Seretse often went to Pilkington's house, in View Road, Highgate, overlooking Hampstead Heath, for Sunday lunch with the Pilkington family. Pilkington appears to have become a close friend. He found Seretse 'most trustworthy and straight; intelligent, of high character and in every way most suitable for chieftainship'.
Seretse remained in many ways a withdrawn character, dedicated to his studies during that first year in London, but he was growing less bookish as his social life improved. He began to smoke and drink more— forbidden sins back home. Seretse had no doubt been introduced to the strange taste of southern English beer, and to the heavy smoking of cigarettes characteristic of young war veterans, in the public houses of Oxford. Now, in London, he could be led further 'astray' in pubs and bars by heavy drinkers and smokers like Harry Nkumbula. But, as yet, there were no girlfriends in sight.
Fateful evening at Nutford House
It was an uncharacteristically hot evening in June 1947 when Seretse first saw Ruth Williams . She had been brought along to an evening supper and dance at Nutford House by her sister Muriel. Muriel Williams was older and more serious than her sister. Muriel neither smoke nor drank, enjoyed classical music and regularly attended church. It was as a good Congregationalist that Muriel took an interest in the colonial students hostel, particularly in students affiliated with the London Missionary Society. She often led discussion groups in the lounge.
Some days earlier, Muriel Williams had invited three of the L.M.S. affiliated students from Nutford House for afternoon tea back at the Williams flat in Lewisham. Her parents, who might be censorious, were away on a holiday cruise. Seretse from Bechuanaland had been meant to go along with two students from Northern Rhodesia, but had declined to go along at the last moment on account of the stiflingly hot weather. In the Lewisham flat the students met Muriel's strikingly attractive younger sister, who had baked a cake for them. She demonstrated with her own records how different her musical tastes were from her sister's; and the two Northern Rhodesians told her how much she had in common with their friend who had stayed behind. They then invited Muriel and Ruth as their guests to the next hospitality evening at Nutford House. The die was thereby cast for Seretse and Ruth to meet.
Hospitality evenings at Nutford House were somewhat starchy occasions, as the hostel staff kept a stern eye an all the proceedings. They were, as they explained later, most concerned to exclude 'flashy' girls and untoward goings-on from the evening's entertainment. The evening began with sherry in the warden's flat, and proceeded through supper to dancing to dance band music played by a small band or on records in the lounge.
Seretse Khama first saw Ruth Williams among the young men and women invited for sherry in the warden's flat. 'When I saw Ruth', a later report has Seretse gushing, 'with her striking reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes, I was immediately attracted to her.' (In fact her eyes were green-grey.) Lady Khama now doubts that Seretse noticed her at all, as introductions were rudimentary all round the group.
Ruth, who loved to dance and was good at it, thoroughly enjoyed herself that evening. It seemed as if every young man asked to dance with her, except Seretse who remained a wallflower. He liked to watch dancing, but was always reluctant to join in. Not until late in the evening was he taken across the room to meet Ruth by Braim Nkhondo , one the two Northern Rhodesians who had been to Lewisham. 'It was not a case of love at first sight', Seretse was to admit. They enjoyed each other's company on this and subsequent occasions—each time Ruth accompanied Muriel to Nutford House. Ruth gradually dissolved Seretse's shyness. He told her all about Bechuanaland, about his uncle Tshekedi, and about the chieftainship that awaited him on his return home.
Ruth also told Seretse about herself. Like Seretse, she was a sports lover, though her tastes stretched to more graceful activities like ice-skating. Her life had otherwise been very different from Seretse's. Two years younger than him, she had been born and brought up on the suburban slopes south of Blackheath and Greenwich. Her father had once been a junior army officer in India, and was now a commercial traveller. Ruth's own experience of foreign parts had been limited to trips by car around northern France and Belgium as a teenager with her parents, in the years immediately before the Second World War. After high school she had gone on to take cookery classes at a technical institute. Then the War had come. A couple of months short of her sixteenth birthday, she had been evacuated from London to a country cottage in Sussex (on an estate which later became the country home of Lord and Lady Longford). Ruth had been separated from her sister Muriel, who was a year older than her. Muriel been sent to a village in Wales, where she had become a member of the Congregational Church —while Ruth remained an Anglican like the rest of her family.
Ruth Williams became very ill with anaemia as a refugee in Sussex, and returned home to Blackheath Park for convalescence. She had then got work in a confectionary business as a junior employee. About this time, the 'phony war' ended and London was subjected to the Blitz. On September 7th, 1940, German aircraft began saturation bombing of the dockyards, munitions factories and railway marshalling yards along the River Thames. Ruth Williams recalled standing on Greenwich hill, next to the Wolfe monument and the Royal Observatory, on the next morning—the whole of docklands and the East End to the north a panorama of smoke and flames.
On September 15th, the peak night of the Blitz, the houses on both sides of the Williams home in Meadowcourt Road were destroyed by a stick of German bombs. Fortunately, Ruth and her family were sheltering in the cellar of a public house at the time. The Williams house was structurally unsound and had to be demolished. While sheltering with an aunt in north London, the family had to look around for new accommodation. They found a ground floor flat (No.3) in Belmont Hall Court, a large modern redbrick building off Belmont Hill—where exclusive Blackheath slopes down into the populous suburb of Lewisham in the valley.
Ruth Williams joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1941 at the age of 17, as soon as she was old enough to enlist. She already had a driving licence, so for the next four to five years she was a WAAF driver. At first she drove crash-ambulances ('blood wagons') and aircrew trucks on Sussex coast emergency landing strips of No.11 Group R.A.F. Fighter Command—as near to a combatant role in war as it was possible for a woman to get. Later, she drove scientists and staff officers around in the relative safety of Uxbridge in west London—a role many years later glamorized in retrospect by the revelation that just such a woman staff driver (though Army rather than WAAF) had been General Eisenhower's secret lover.
On being 'demobbed' in 1946, Ruth Williams searched for a responsible job befitting a young independent woman. She became a confidential clerk in a Lloyd's firm of insurance underwriters in the City of London. The pencil slim 24 year-old who came to the lounge of Nutford House, 'simply and neatly dressed' at her own expense, was therefore a formidable young woman of the modern type, moulded by the upheavals of the Second World War.
* * *
It was not until at least three months after that June evening in 1947, that Seretse dared to ask Ruth for a date. He had already gone out and bought two theatre tickets for a show featuring the Inkspots , Ruth's favourite group of close harmony American singers then at the height of their fame. Standing nervously on the landing at Nutford House, he phoned Ruth from the public phone on the wall. She agreed to go with him to the show.
It was a few days after they had enjoyed the Inkspots together, that Seretse first ventured to broach the topic of romance. Lady Khama challenges its authenticity, but an account in the popular African-American magazine Ebony has Seretse asking her: 'Ruth, do you think you could love me?', and then holding his breath. She says not a word, but: 'the light in her sky-blue eyes and the smile on her face told me what I wanted to know. She did love me, and I knew for certain that this was the woman I wanted for my wife.'
Over the coming winter and spring of 1947-48 the staff at Nutford House witnessed a remarkable transformation in the quiet young man from Bechuanaland. Seretse, 'who did not go about with girls as did most students', was seen to blossom in the company of Ruth. The Nutford House staff greatly approved of Ruth Williams, because she was always 'perfectly mannered'. She was also 'obviously fond of dancing, which she did well—usually with Seretse.'.
Love helped Seretse to grow as a person. The situation is summed up by Mary Benson , who was Tshekedi's sometime personal assistant and later his biographer—that Seretse found in Ruth 'companionship and understanding, and a sense of resolution and completeness that he had lacked'. Seretse slowly dropped from the visibility of Dr Pilkington at Highgate. Nor did he even hint about Ruth in letters to Tshekedi. As far as Tshekedi was concerned, 'Sonny' was studying hard to complete his law studies and to pass the Bar exams so that he could return home as soon as possible after December 1948. But love is a churlish mistress, and Seretse's study hours were frittered away either with Ruth or in thinking about her.
Tshekedi Khama's preoccupations as Regent
Tshekedi was much too busy to pay much attention to the lapse in correspondence from Seretse. He was preoccupied with both internal affairs within his Reserve and international affairs beyond the borders of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.
Much to the chagrin of the British, who regarded external affairs as their prerogative, Tshekedi had gone onto the offensive against General Smuts and South African expansionism. Smuts, as 'original author of the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations ', expected the United Nations as the successor to the League of Nations to allow the incorporation of South West Africa (Namibia) into the Union of South Africa—as a reward for South Africa's military contribution to the United Nations, i.e. the Western Allies, in the Second World War. The formal request was made on January 17th, 1946. Tshekedi sprang into action as a one man lobby on the British government to block Smuts, and to get South West Africa (Namibia) put under British or United Nations rule instead. He also saw such freedom for South West Africa as the chance for Bechuanaland to break free from South African and Southern Rhodesian economic hegemony, with the construction of a railway to carry coal exports from Bechuanaland to a South West African port.
For six months Tshekedi badgered the British in private correspondence to refuse South Africa's request 'until its native policy of permanent suppression of African natives be ended.' He recruited the other chiefs of the Bechuanaland Protectorate onto his side, and contacted allies in London such as the Anti-Slavery Society . After months of unsuccessfully pleading for official permission to go to London or New York to represent the case against Smuts, Tshekedi went public. He denounced the 'oppressive, imperialist tendencies' of the Union of South Africa, and was in turn denounced in the Afrikaans press as a 'very large cock on a very small dung heap.'
Tshekedi failed to reach New York to put his case before the United Nations. But he succeeded in publishing a pamphlet, The Case for Bechuanaland , and gained the ear of the new nationalist government of India, through its High Commissioner in Pretoria, to speak up for South West Africa in the United Nations. Finally, Tshekedi recruited and financed a radical Anglican priest, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi with Indian experience, by the name of Rev. Michael Scott , to go the United Nations in his stead.
Tshekedi thereby re-established his credentials in liberal and radical circles overseas, and annoyed his masters in the High Commissioner's office in Pretoria and in the Dominions Office (now being renamed Commonwealth Relations Office ) in London. Within the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the local colonial authorities was behoven to his despotic style of 'tribal' administration. We can see this in his relations with mild-mannered and balding Anthony Sillery, the scholarly linguist appointed as the B.P.'s resident commissioner in 1946.
Sillery tagged along with Tshekedi's ruthless solution to longstanding problems with one of the BaKalanga chiefdoms—that of the BakaNswazwi under Kgosi John Nswazwi (Mswazi). Tshekedi's solution was to expel the BakaNswazwi into Southern Rhodesia in 1947, after that self-governing colony had been persuaded by the British authorities to accept them. In later years, Sillery regretted the way in which he had permitted violence to be used. His explanation was that Tshekedi, supremely confident and assured, fixed him with penetrating eyes and danced before him waving his arms and endlessly talking. He had been mesmerized like a snake by a mongoose.
The relationship between the Bechuanaland Protectorate and the British crown was affirmed by the visit of the British royal family in April 1947. King George VI, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, stopped off the royal train at Lobatse. But the B.P. was expected by the Commonwealth Relations Office (C.R.O.) in London to simply revert back to the status quo of 1939—from an economy servicing Allied war aims, to one serving the needs of the South African gold mines. The inevitable corollary to such economic incorporation was political incorporation into the Union of South Africa.
Tshekedi nursed a counter-vision, inherited from his father, of developing the internal economic potential of the country—to the extent where it would employ its own labour resources, rather than export them to its neighbours. 'Tshekedi's policy is obvious', remarked two admiring British visitors, Jenny and Sydney Elliot , in early 1948: 'It is to make the Bamangwato economically self-supporting, to develop a healthy cultural interest and provide, within the tribe's own territory, a modernised tribal life which will prevent the drift of young men and women to the Union.'
At about the same time as the Elliots' tour, Tshekedi was visited by a Pulitzer prize-winning American novelist turned journalist, Martin Flavin . Flavin remarked on the enormous energies being poured by 'the Native Boss of Bechuanaland' and the Bangwato into the construction of 'the Bechuana Secondary School' at Moeng in the Tswapong hills. Labour intensive schemes such as this were employing young men in return for food, while capital costs were covered by cattle levies.
While Bangwato he talked to were proud of their achievements under Tshekedi's direction, Flavin also caught some of the resentment building up as he drove his people ever harder. It may have been enlightened despotism, but it was despotism all the same. The Elliots added that Tshekedi was looking forward to personal freedom when Seretse returned home as Kgosi. He might still be engaged in administrative work, but he would be free 'to help the political development of the Black man'—in Bechuanaland and Africa as a whole, rather than just among the Bangwato.
* * *
Seretse had stepped out of one world into another. From the colonial racial and national tensions of Southern Africa, into an almost defeated country in Europe that was being reconstructed after surviving the Second World War. Africa and Europe had seemed barely connected at first for Seretse, isolated at Oxford. It was not until he moved into cosmopolitan student circles in London that he was able to reconnect with the world of pan-African political developments.
These two worlds were to come into increasing contact and conflict from the later 1940's until the later 1960's. Nationalist movements in Asia and Africa made increasing demands on Britain for their political and economic independence, at the same time as African-Caribbean immigrants became conspicuous settlers in Britain. Seretse Khama was soon to become a figure who, more than virtually any other individual, symbolized the bringing together of these two worlds at the end of the 1940's and the beginning of the 1950's.
In June 1948, exactly a year after they had first met, Seretse Khama asked Ruth Williams to marry him. She agreed, and they began to make arrangements at the beginning of September. Seretse moved out of Nutford House and into a tiny flat at No 10 Campden Hill Gardens, near an attractive small square in Kensington south of Notting Hill Gate. Seretse had given the London Missionary Society as his reference, and the rent was four guineas a week. The marriage was then booked for October 2nd at St George's, the Anglican church at the end of the road, giving time to the vicar to call the banns for the marriage on three consecutive Sundays.
Seretse now summoned up the courage to tell his uncle. Taking a sixpenny airmail letter-form, he began 'Dear Father', and slipped into an explanation of his new address before coming to the matter of marriage. He anticipated difficulty from the Bangwato, who might deprive him of the right to rule: 'I shall still return home whenever you say to serve them in any capacity'. But he expressed every confidence in his uncle:
I have assured her that no matter how hostile every body might be at home, nevertheless she will find you & mother most considerate & kind, & you will do all you can to make us feel welcome.
Wishful thinking indeed. This brought him to the matter of money: 'no matter how you feel please send me the necessary funds as soon as possible to enable us to start at least without financial worries.' He ended,
Please do not try to stop me father, I want to go through with it. I hope you will appreciate the urgency of my request —I do need help.
Ke le ngwana wa-gago [I remain your child]
The letter was postmarked September 13th and franked 'Save Your Waste Paper for Salvage', an indication of Britain's continuing post-war austerity rather than any environmental enlightenment. It arrived in Tshekedi's hands on the building site of Bamangwato College at Moeng, deep in the Tswapong Hills, ten days later. Perhaps the first thing Tshekedi would have noticed, next to the unfamilar address on the aerogramme crammed with writing, was the underlined postscript: Leina la gagwe ke Ruth Williams (i.e. her name is Ruth Williams).
Tshekedi receives the news
Sillery had accompanied Tshekedi to the Moeng building site, and was inspecting the construction of the dam wall there. 'On that fateful day', records Sillery, 'Tshekedi came to see me with a face like a fiddle and showed me a letter or telegramme.' Both men then rushed in their vehicles to Palapye post-office. Sillery got through on the phone to the High Commissioner in Pretoria, while Tshekedi cabled Seretse in London—and Buchanan, his lawyer, in Cape Town.
Seretse received Tshekedi's telegram, delivered to his door, on the morning of Friday September 24th. 'Get ready to leave at moment's notice. I can only discuss your proposal personally after your arrival here.' If Tshekedi meant by this to preempt the marriage, Seretse and Ruth were not gulled. They walked to the church on the corner, and arranged for the ceremony to be brought forward to the very next day. Seretse also invited Pilkington, his L.M.S. guardian, to the wedding.
The story of the cops-and-robbers chase of lovers and ecclesiastical envoys around Kensington on Saturday, September 25th, was later compiled by Tshekedi in the form of letters from Pilkington and others, and has been told in a number of subsequent books. The upshot was a tearful couple, denied the sacrament of marriage by no less than the Bishop of London himself, in full cope and mitre standing outside St Mary Abbot's church in Kensington. The bishop would not relent without the prior approval of government. In Seretse's words:
Ruth and I both protested strenuously. But it was Ruth, standing there with tears in her eyes, who raised the question that (no one) could answer: "Does the church want to force me to live in sin?"
Over the next few days, the Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Offices tried, and failed, to bring in Harry Nkumbula of Northern Rhodesia to dissuade Seretse; and concluded that marriages between people of different races could only be stopped in Scottish law and not in English law. Pressure mounted on Seretse and Ruth to opt for a civil marriage. Tshekedi was already arranging a booking for Seretse to fly out as soon as possible—the cost of £50 one-way to be borne by the Bangwato treasury.
Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams were married by the registrar of births, deaths and marriages at Kensington town hall on Wednesday September 29th, 1948, at about ten in the morning. Seretse's Oxford friend John Zimmerman and Ruth's sister Muriel were the witnesses. After the celebrations, Seretse cable Tshekedi with the news and requested two air-tickets.
Pilkington feared to contact Seretse: because 'it is safe to assume that I have sunk, for the moment, from the position of his best friend to his worst enemy.' Old Professor Coupland at Oxford was as self-justificatory as ever: 'I shall always think the trouble would not have occurred if my advice to keep Seretse in Oxford had been taken.'
Seretse flew out, on the sole ticket sent by Tshekedi, on October 21st. Five days earlier he had been quoted in the first report which had appeared in the British press on the marriage:'I gather my uncle and his councillors may think differently of having me as chief now I have a white wife...whatever happens I will be either coming back to London for Ruth or sending for her'.
From this moment on, newspapers began to take an interest in these events. The Johannesburg press trailed Seretse back to his home at Serowe in Bechuanaland. The London press pestered Ruth, and began the annoying habit of referring to her as a London 'typist'. (A libel on a secretary who actually employed a typist, which has resulted in her resisting learning to type ever since.)
The First Kgotla
Seretse arrived back home at Serowe on October 25th. He had been met by American Congregationalist missionary Ray Phillips at Vaal Dam when his Imperial Airways flying-boat landed, and was then whisked off by car through the north-western Transvaal to spend his first night over the border at the Moeng College site.
The welcoming Kgotla at Serowe showed the disapproval of his marriage by the leading elders and royal uncles. Seretse was then kept sitting around for days waiting for a full Kgotla assembly of all adult men. Tshekedi was playing for time, hoping to break down Seretse's resolution by the restitution of familiar sights and old routines. Tshekedi found Seretse respectful but suspiciously quiet, moody and prone to burst into tears. 'My impression', minuted Gerald Nettelton , the Government Secretary and second highest official in Bechuanaland, 'is that he is being told frequently and bluntly that every possible step is going to be taken to break the marriage down.'
Seretse responded by moving out of Tshekedi's household into that of another 'uncle' (in fact his grandfather's brother's son), Serogola Seretse. Serogola, who had previously quarrelled with Tshekedi after acting as his deputy for many years, bristled at the fact that Tshekedi was presenting his personal views to the British authorities as being those of the Bangwato as a whole.
Nettelton and other long-serving officials advised their superiors in Mafeking and Pretoria that 'it was just another Ngwato row', which would blow over. Nettelton, cautious and cynical in conversation but immensely knowledgeable about the Protectorate, told Anthony Sillery the Resident Commissioner at Mafeking: 'We all know who will always run the Bangwato—Tshekedi of course.'
Before they met Ruth in person, the assumption held among Bangwato and British establishment figures alike was that Seretse's white wife was an 'adventuress', who would tire of her experiment in good time—leading to a divorce and the restitution of normality. All that was needed was for the authorities to hang on, and to delay in setting up the processes of law and administration that must otherwise deal with the problem.
The Kgotla assembly that eventually gathered on November 15th, 1948 consisted of adult men from Serowe and its environs, and headmen and elders from outlying areas of the Reserve. They sat and deliberated for five days. Tshekedi presided over the debate, seated with Seretse and the royal uncles facing the crowd. The consensus, as expressed by 85 speakers, was that everyone wanted Seretse as Kgosi but no one wanted his English wife as Mohumagadi (queen). Only seven speakers spoke up for both marriage partners.
When Seretse spoke, he stood up to speak like a common man. This affronted Tshekedi, who spoke while remaining seated in the proper tradition of royalty. Seretse spoke simply and briefly, gently playing on popular fears that people would be stuck with Tshekedi as chief if his succession was blocked. What must have particularly stung Tshekedi, the Empire patriot who had done so much to help Britain in its German war, was Seretse's suggestion that his uncle had resorted to German (i.e. Nazi) methods of intimidation to break down the marriage. But the speeches continued to isolate Seretse and denounce his marriage.
Seretse exploded in peevish frustration at Tshekedi's chairmanship: 'Whether the Chief speaks loudly or softly, I will always regard it as a reprimand and as a stifling of freedom of speech.' At another point he snapped at old Gaofetoge Mathiba, his late mother's consort: 'I object very strongly to Mathiba saying he loves me. I hate him.'
After Seretse's supportive uncle Serogola was involved in some minor (unfortunately unrecorded) altercation in the Kgotla, one of Tshekedi's supporters accused Seretse of being a football-bladder pumped up by evil men. Tshekedi then brought into the debate his old ally Kgosi Bathoen II of the Bangwaketse, just as he had previously done in disciplining Seretse in 1942. Bathoen led the attack on the third and fourth days of the Kgotla, accusing Seretse of cowardice. Seretse had protested that he loved his people, as well as his wife, but Bathoen retorted: 'Nobody can cast fire among people he loves...' (It was to be twenty years before Seretse could deliver a stinging public rebuke back at Bathoen.)
Tshekedi spoke last, and at great length, rambling between summing up the sense of the meeting and his own emotions. He began with a dig at the colonial administration for bothering to send local District Commissioner S.V. Lawrenson to record the meeting. It being so rare an example of government listening closely to the people's feelings. He thanked the other Batswana chiefs for coming along to douse water on the Bangwato fire. He turned to Seretse, claiming to be heartbroken by his ingratitude. He then played his trump card, by threatening to exile himself—the implication being that all civil governance would collapse under the unready rule of Seretse. Tshekedi's underlying message to Seretse was clear: drop your wife and become Kgosi, or stay away with her and leave bogosi to me.
I will not contest the town (i.e. the state) with you.
I will not divide it with you, nor will I be here with your woman.
It was now Saturday lunchtime. Lawrenson was asked to close the session with a few words. He announced the birth of a future monarch in Britain, Prince Charles. He then turned to Seretse, and simply said: 'You have heard your fathers speaking to you. Do not disregard them.'
Seretse stayed in Serowe beyond Christmas, giving false hope to those who prayed that he might yet abandon Ruth. But he continued to write to her every day—no mean achievement for a laggard correspondent like Seretse—'about the things that lovers write to one another'. Meanwhile, Tshekedi hived off to see his lawyer in Cape Town. He reappeared a week later, bearing a long document including appended copies of twenty-one letters, titled 'Presentation of the position arising in the political crisis occasioned by the marriage of Seretse Khama to Ruth Williams in England. Case presented by Chief Tshekedi Khama of the Bamangwato people and their legal adviser Adv. D.M. Buchanan, K.C.'
Dropping off a copy on his way home with the Resident Commissioner in Mafeking, Tshekedi had the document confirmed by 'two representative meetings of the headmen of the Tribe' at Serowe before presenting it as an official memorandum to the B.P. administration on December 15th. Tshekedi had numerous copies of the memorandum made by his typists, which he then distributed widely as a form of lobbying to interested parties.
Seretse protested that the memorandum had been confirmed by secret meetings which excluded him, and needed confirmation by a full Kgotla assembly. Seretse suggested that Tshekedi was trying to oust him to grab the chieftainship for himself. Tshekedi responded impatiently and imperiously, 'If that is his suspicion, he is welcome to it.' In turn, he accused Seretse of being manipulated against his regency by some royal 'uncles'—old Serogola Seretse and young Peto Sekgoma . Seretse was indeed receiving intimations of increasing support from people—especially women—who were dissatisfied with Tshekedi's rule.
Discussions between Seretse and Tshekedi, conducted with some acrimony in front of the District Commissioner, resulted in an agreement to hold another Kgotla assembly just after Christmas, before Seretse flew back to England to resume his legal studies.
The Second Kgotla
The second Kgotla assembly on the question of Seretse's marriage was convened on December 28th, 1948. Seretse appealed for 'the views of the people', rather than those of his 'uncles'. But a procession of headmen and notables proceeded once again to lecture Seretse. Younger men began to speak up in support of Seretse, after he made it clear that the real issue was his succession to bogosi rather than his marriage.
The most ancient and respected royal 'uncle', Phethu Mphoeng , spoke with foreboding of the racial arrogance that might be shown by Seretse's 'coloured' offspring: 'We cannot be ruled by a Chief who looks low on the people, a Chief who will probably call the black people kafirs.' Seretse rebuked the old man for insolence, and appealed for tolerance.
At the end of the debate Tshekedi announced that more speakers had spoken against the marriage; and then proceeded to rubbish Seretse's supporters as being 'without exception men of no standing in the Tribe; they are mostly young people..this matter was beyond the understanding of young people.' Tshekedi had the minutes of this second Kgotla typed up, and forwarded them to the Resident Commissioner with the comment that they showed 'the tribe is still unanimous in its protest against this marriage.'
On the last day of 1948 Seretse left Serowe for England, promising to return in June 1949 after his final bar exams in May.
* * *
Over the next six months Tshekedi brooded over the affair largely to himself, though he periodically consulted with others. At the end of January he wrote a somewhat vindictive letter to the Resident Commissioner titled 'Seretse's character viewed from an administrative angle', particularly taking offence at the fact that Seretse had taken to drinking alcohol.
By April Tshekedi was growing belligerent and openly talking of forcing Seretse to quit as chief. People noticed how he was touring cattle-posts—in order to separate out 'something over 2,000' cattle belonging to Seretse from Sekgoma II's will, from the more thirty thousand cattle that Tshekedi claimed under Khama's 1907 will. Tshekedi was also preparing the colonial authorities with alarmist talk, which the High Commissioner did not find entirely convincing, of 'the possibility of serious disturbance' if Ruth were to be allowed into Bechuanaland—the obvious official pretext to justify a ban on her entry.
Seretse arrived back in London on January 6th, 1949, after ten weeks apart from Ruth. The British press proved to be as intrusive as ever, though the couple succeeded in avoiding press statements which would compromise negotiations. As Seretse told the Commonwealth Relations Office, journalists had been putting leading Yes or No questions to his wife and had then invented her replies in full.
The couple moved into a larger flat, on the ground floor of No.34 Adolphus Road, in the Manor House inner suburb of North London. They were sometimes seen enjoying a light ale in the Hornsey Wood Tavern. Seretse reverted to his law studies, though he did not pursue them with sufficient vigour to actually pass the bar exams which he sat in mid-May. He continued to receive £60 per month voted him by the Bangwato treasury. He then only agreed to return to Bechuanaland without Ruth on condition that she received £40 a month after he left at the beginning of June.
Resident Commissioner Sillery, who spent much of his time compiling dynastic histories of the various 'tribes' of the Protectorate, was encouraged by Tshekedi to see current events as a 'constitutional crisis'. Sillery thought he had found the key to the dispute between Tshekedi and Seretse in old rivalries between dynastic houses. He saw Ruth as 'a sort of Lady Jane Grey', being used to advance the cause of the House of Sekgoma II—and 'at the same time (forgive the mixed metaphor) the match that might set all this inflammable material alight'! High Commissioner Evelyn Baring, on the other hand, was more concerned with avoiding possible civil disturbance, if Ruth proved to be 'a rallying point for minority sentiment'—by stopping Ruth flying into Africa from overseas with Seretse.
Colonial government fears were if anything further strengthened by a letter from one of Seretse Khama's cousins, Capital Seretse of Orlando township (part of later Soweto) in Johannesburg, attacking Tshekedi for high treason against 'honourable Ruth Williams...a European lady—a daughter of our gods.'
The Third Kgotla
Seretse arrived back in Serowe on June 15th, 1949, having been intercepted and delayed on the way at Mafeking by Tshekedi and the Protectorate administration. An official had had to be sent on ahead to Mochudi, capital of the the Bakgatla people south of the Bangwato, to nip in the bud local ideas of sending a Bakgatla regiment to ceremonially escort Seretse into Serowe.
The Third Kgotla assembly on Seretse Khama's marriage and succession was held at Serowe between Monday June 20th and Saturday June 25th, 1949. Estimates of the crowd attending the assembly over these five days ranged from 3,500 (by Tshekedi and in the Afrikaans press) to 10,000. The assembly was certainly representative—as a later government commission was to confirm—of the Bangwato adult male citizenry as a whole, from outlying districts as well as from the capital.
Tshekedi was already disadvantaged among the Bangwato by a 'great secret' being bruited about by Serogola. On his return from inspecting the Khama cattle-posts, Tshekedi had been challenged by Serogola over his claim to nearly all royal cattle as his personal property. Tshekedi had replied that all the tributes and levies paid to the chieftainship, including the matimela cattle ('waifs-and-strays') and the elephant tusks (one out of every two hunted) were his and not Seretse's. This remark could be interpreted, and was by Serogola, as a direct claim to monarchy for himself and his successors, excluding Seretse from succession.
The Kgotla, with the world press in attendance, began with a display of colonial government impartiality that frightened Tshekedi. The Resident Commissioner's deputy Vivien Ellenberger , himself with the status of a Motswana elder after having spent nearly all his life in the country since childhood, self-consciously addressed both Tshekedi and Seretse as Kgosi .
'The talk of the first two days', according to Ellenberger, 'was mostly of a skirmishing nature—beating about the bush—with an occasional crack of the whip which produced a quick and equally stinging reply.' On the Monday, Seretse again made a virtue of the fact, underlined by Tshekedi, that he was supported by the poor majority and not by the rich minority of the Bangwato. On the Tuesday morning, one of Seretse's maternal Tshukudu relatives, Gaoletsa Tshukudu , first uttered aloud the 'great secret' of Tshekedi's personal accumulation of the matimela cattle and ivory tusks that were due to bogosi .
But the mood of the meeting really broke late on Wednesday morning, when Serogola rose as a heavy-weight to confront Tshekedi. In the words of Ellenberger,
Serogola Seretse came to the point with a telling speech which received considerable support from the tribesmen...he ended his speech with these words: 'I say, let the woman come and their child shall succeed'.
When the meeting was adjourned at lunchtime, Tshekedi, as chairman of the Kgotla, welcomed the fact that plain speaking had begun.
The assembly reconvened on the Thursday morning. Its mood was now against Tshekedi, who 'made a long and impassioned but ineffective reply to Serogola', against sounds of mass discontent from the assembly. Tshekedi must have shared Ellenberger's realization that while Seretse would sway the majority of commoners—'the "guts" of the tribe who are the big property owners & heads of large sections will stick to Tshekedi.' This led Tshekedi to make a great tactical blunder. He ended his long speech by calling on his principal supporters, all politically prominent men of proven administrative experience, to come out of the crowd and to stand before Ellenberger. 'The people you saw standing here', Tshekedi told the crowd, 'are my successors if I should die.'
The meeting then broke for a late morning interval. While some refreshed themselves with tea, Seretse remained in the Kgotla by himself and conceived his master stroke. After the interval, he rose before the people apologetically, prefacing his remarks with 'Bangwato, I have not much to say'—and then launching into splendid oratory. Ellenberger takes up the story:
He then took a leaf from Tshekedi's book, calling up the leading men among his supporters. His next move was a complete surprise and its result shattered Tshekedi. Excluding royal headmen, he asked those who still opposed the coming of his wife to stand. Not more than 40 did so. He then called on those who now accept his wife to stand. This brought the whole assembly to its feet—4,000 men shouting "Pula, Pula, Pula !" It was a stirring spectacle, a magnificent expression of public sentiment.
The press underlined the fact that Seretse had been acclaimed as Kgosi together with his wife by a popular assembly. It was claimed that the shouting and stamping had lasted for ten minutes, clouds of brown dust rising into the sky. Seretse himself 'grinned and slapped his thigh'.
Tshekedi immediately adjourned the meeting for the day, stalking off.
The Friday session saw rowdy interruptions when Bathoen criticized Seretse's impudence, but the representatives of other Bechuanaland 'tribes' all accepted Seretse as duly appointed Kgosi. Ellenberger, as the Resident Commissioner's representative, was also satisfied that the assembly was representative of the whole Bangwato state, after men from each sub-district were asked to stand and identify themselves in Kgotla.
Saturday morning saw Tshekedi's reluctant acceptance of Seretse being acclaimed Kgosi. 'The duty of a Chief', Tshekedi told Seretse, 'is to bear all insults. My first law would be: listen to your people.' After some harsh, defiant words of admonishment, Tshekedi ended the historic Kgotla assembly with a dramatic—but not unanticipated—announcement that he would exile himself from the Bangwato state if Ruth Williams came to the country. When others tried to speak, Tshekedi, choked with emotion, dismissed the assembly with one word: Phatalala ('disperse').
* * *
Before Seretse Khama could formally succeed to the position of Kgosi, the acclamation of the assembled Bangwato in Kgotla had to be endorsed by the British colonial authorities recognising him as 'Native Authority'. The initial inclination, both official and unofficial, was to do so. Ellenberger's report on the Third Kgotla portrayed Seretse as a rebellious young adult, angry at his uncle's attempts to treat him as a small boy, who had revived the 'age-old bitterness, suspicion and intrigue' of dynastic disputes. But, as Ellenberger told the press on July 4th, all that remained before the installation of the new Chief was formal acceptance of the Bangwato decision by the British government.
The new Serowe district commissioner, Richard Sullivan , himself the heir to an English baronetcy, was strongly in favour of the least possible delay in implementing Seretse's hereditary succession. Sillery, as Resident Commissioner, writing to the High Commissioner in Pretoria on July 5th, formally recommended 'that Seretse Khama be recognised by you as chief of the Bamangwato and that the Secretary of State's confirmation be sought.'
Press reports combined support for Seretse with sympathy for Tshekedi. The qualities of the protagonists and the drama of the debate, in the exotic setting of an African traditional town, caught the public imagination in Britain and elsewhere. The obvious parallel, noted by periodicals as divergent as the Manchester Guardian and Time magazine , was with Britain's own royal marriage and succession crisis of 1936, when Edward VIII had been forced to abdicate after his unapproved marriage to Mrs Simpson, a foreign commoner double-divorcee. There was also a long-running royal crisis in Belgium involving the king's desire to marry a commoner, which was to be finally resolved by the abdication of Leopold III in 1951. But the main political reason for press focus on the Bangwato succession crisis in Bechuanaland was undoubtedly its pertinence to next-door South Africa, where the ultra-chauvinist National Party government of Dr Malan had been elected to power on the political platform of rasse-apartheid (race-separation) in 1948.
At the time of the Third Kgotla, Malan's Afrikaner nationalist government had just begun its programme of apartheid legislation with a sensational bill to ban 'mixed marriages', which was passed on its third parliamentary reading on the day after the Bangwato acclaimed Seretse. In fact the new law would only ban marriages between Europeans and Coloureds or Asians. Marriages between Europeans and Africans, such as Ruth and Seretse, had been illegal in the Union of South Africa ever since 1923. The acclamation by the Bangwato of Seretse's chieftainship and marriage struck at the heart of white racism in Southern Africa. It challenged the whole philosophical basis of apartheid : that not only was segregation 'natural' but it was actually desired by the native masses themselves. Insult would have been added to injury by British recognition of Seretse as Chief.
While Seretse made arrangements for accommodating his wife at Serowe, Tshekedi made preparations for self-exile. These included plans to strip the Khama inheritance out of the Bangwato reserve—both cattle and the moveable parts of buildings. Tshekedi also hogged the press limelight, while Seretse assiduously followed official advice by refusing all interviews with the press.
Tribal government was effectively frozen at Serowe, deprived of its senior personnel, though things were generally quiet and 'educated Bechuanaland natives' expected the whole affair to soon blow over. More foreign journalists arrived in the town to cover Ruth Khama's arrival. They discovered a world entirely unlike the lion-infested village of mud-huts they had been led to expect. The London Daily Express correspondent expressed his surprise that, though life in Serowe was slow, the people were not only 'intelligent and animated' but also, unlike elsewhere in Southern Africa, 'entirely free from subservience' to Europeans.
Letters of support for Seretse began to arrive from Bangwato migrant workers in Cape Town, Kimberley and Johannesburg. There were also jokers at work. A cypher telegram from Llandudno, Wales, to the Serowe district commissioner, apparently about Ruth's arrival, proved to be a hoax: 'Typewriter Schenectady Machine-Gun Peashooter'.
Meanwhile in London, an old Bechuanaland administrative hand on overseas leave, Gerald Nettelton , was bowled over on meeting Ruth. He reported back to Ellenberger that, though he diagnosed an undisciplined and intolerant streak in her,
Ruth Khama is a nice looking girl, much nicer looking than she appears to be from her photographs—pretty golden hair...She was nicely and simply dressed, and conversed freely and intelligently. In fact, she is a tougher proposition than we had hoped she might be—and she will never be bought off.
Seretse was summoned to the High Commissioner's office in Pretoria, where he met High Commissioner Sir Evelyn Baring on Monday July 4th. The meeting was cordial and friendly, with every impression given that recognition of his Chieftainship was imminent. A headline in that afternoon's Johannesburg Star newspaper read 'Tribe's Acceptance of Seretse Thought to be Final'. Seretse subsequently readied Ruth to fly out within three weeks.
Tshekedi remained behind at Serowe, consulting with Buchanan and Bathoen and his main followers. On Thursday July 7th, Tshekedi and Bathoen appeared in Pretoria and handed Baring a public document dated one day previously, signed by himself and 43 headmen. The declaration began: 'We are leaving the Bamangwato country to ally ourselves to a neighbouring chief...' That chief was Kgosi Kgari Sechele of the Bakwena, who was to allot them a place on his border with the Bangwato at Rametsana. Thenceforward Tshekedi's party was to be known as 'Bo-Rametsana' or simply as 'Rametsana'. Tshekedi and Bathoen made it clear to Baring that 'there is no question of disputing Seretse's appointment as chief', but it was not until a second meeting of July 8th that they convinced Baring of the need for a judicial enquiry to look into the validity of Seretse's acclamation in Kgotla.
Sullivan the Serowe district commissioner was under orders to gain Seretse's confidence, and to assure him that Baring was pressing London for early confirmation of his appointment. Sullivan however reported Seretse to be 'nervous and insecure' by July 13th. Seretse saw that Tshekedi was using the issue of the Khama inheritance as a diversion, to stay inside the Bangwato reserve with 'his' property as long as possible. On July 15th Sullivan reported that Seretse wanted government help in purchasing a car, by permitting cattle sales through veterinary restrictions. Meanwhile in Mafeking, Sillery was badgering his superiors for confirmation of Seretse as late as July 22nd.
People in Serowe learned about British government pronouncements and activities from the radio—Southern Rhodesian, South African, and British (BBC Overseas Service) being the order in clarity of reception. But Seretse was never to know what happened behind closed doors in London and Pretoria during this period.
South Africa and Rhodesia step in
The South African government had apparently made moves to ban Ruth Khama from its territory even before Seretse was acclaimed in the Serowe Kgotla. Afrikaans and Natal English-language newspapers in South Africa were particularly hostile to the marriage and to recognition of Seretse. Representatives of the three Dutch Reformed Churches of South Africa, about to convene in general assembly at Johannesburg 'to discuss social evils', went to prime minister Malan in person on June 24th, to 'make most forceful representations' for the Union government to stop recognition of Seretse as paramount chief of the Bangwato. The South African Bureau of Racial Affairs , a government 'think-tank', issued a statement on June 29th: that South Africa could not 'stand by indifferently and watch proceedings of this nature' on its borders.
As a result of these pressures, Dr Malan consulted his cabinet colleagues and his private secretary D.D. Forsyth , who was also (permanent) secretary for external affairs. Forsyth decided to be extra cautious in contacting the British government, as strictly speaking Bechuanaland Protectorate affairs were none of the Union's business.
The South African high commissioner (i.e. ambassador) in London, Leif Egeland , met Britain's Commonwealth Relations minister, Philip Noel-Baker , on the morning of Thursday June 30th, for what Noel-Baker later minuted as 'only semi-official or private representations'. Egeland asked for recognition of Seretse to be withheld on three grounds: the repugnance of the marriage to 'all races' in the Union of South Africa; the desirability of keeping such a competent leader as Tshekedi in power; and the prospect of the white woman soon abandoning the marriage. 'Mr. Egeland said he would wager a large sum of money that she would not last six months.'
After Baring saw Tshekedi and Bathoen on July 7th, he got wind of public comments made by Godfrey Huggins , prime minister of Southern Rhodesia. Huggins also wrote to Britain's high commissioner in Pretoria, Evelyn Baring, a former governor of Southern Rhodesia, on July 7th that he was being 'bombarded' to interfere in Seretse's succession. British government recognition of Seretse as chief, he claimed, would 'add a little fuel to the flames of the fire kept burning by...anti-Native Europeans'. Later that day Huggins was challenged in his parliament to deplore such racial miscegenation; he agreed that the Bangwato had shown 'disastrous...lack of racial pride'. Huggins then wrote another personal letter to Baring. Meanwhile similar sentiments had also been expressed in the white parliament of Northern Rhodesia.
At this juncture, between the 7th and 11th of June, Baring's resolve to recognise Seretse faltered. He had taken confidential advice from different quarters. The chief secretary in charge of the High Commission Territories within Baring's office, W.A.W. Clark , was appalled at losing tribal administrators of the calibre of his good friend Tshekedi and the 43 headmen. Clark, quiet and smooth, has been described as Baring's Rasputin. According to Sillery, Baring also had on his office staff 'a man named Cairns , a reputedly rich young South African, on whom Baring relied more than I liked for advice on white South African opinion.'
Baring's personal priest-confessor was no Rasputin. Father Trevor Huddleston has since recalled, with some shame, his having advised Baring against recognition of Seretse as Chief, on the grounds that recognition might make irresistible South Africa's claim to incorporate the High Commission Territories. But it was undoubtedly the secret advice of D.D. Forsyth, Malan's private secretary, which tipped the scales so heavily against recognition of Seretse. D.D. Forsyth was an imperial mole burrowed in at the top of the nationalist mountain of white South Africa. He had been prime minister's secretary and secretary for external affairs since 1941, during all the heady years of the Union's war for King and Commonwealth under Smuts's leadership. Malan inherited Forsyth from Smuts in 1948 and kept him on, apparently in full knowledge of his continuing sympathies and loyalties—though Malan may not have realized the extent to which Forsyth was supplying the British with intelligence.
Baring and Forsyth, already close to each other, first met to discuss the Seretse affair on July 7th, between Baring's two meetings with Tshekedi and Bathoen. Forsyth reported on Malan's views. Malan claimed that the 'extremist Afrikaner' faction led by J.G. Strijdom in the South African cabinet was hoping that Britain would recognize Seretse, so that the South African government would have a pretext for breaking with the British Commonwealth and declaring South Africa an independent republic.
On July 11th, Baring forwarded Ellenberger's report on the Third Kgotla to London, with the recommendation of a judicial enquiry to delay or invalidate Seretse's accession. He also wrote an urgent personal letter to Noel-Buxton underlining the strength of Forsyth's views. In doing so Baring explicitly abandoned the principle he had adopted five years before, that British policy towards Africans in the High Commission Territories should never be behoven to the prejudices of white South Africa. Receipt of Baring's telegraphic dispatches in London coincided with the arrival of Malan's special envoy, General Beyers , at the Commonwealth Relations Office. Beyers and Percival Liesching , the permanent secretary, shared a racist tizzy about the undesirability of 'their son or daughter marrying a member of the negro race.'
Patrick Gordon-Walker , the new assistant minister and extremely ambitious politician, topped all with his incredibly racist suggestion that Seretse could be barred by an administrative fiat 'declaring that a chief cannot have a white wife.' Noel-Buxton seems to have favoured inviting Seretse to London, putting him into the picture of 'the difficulties faced by the United Kingdom Government' in relation to the Union of South Africa, and offering him an 'annual allowance' in return for abdication. But Noel-Buxton was persuaded by Arthur Creech-Jones the Colonial Office minister, and by his British cabinet colleagues on July 21st, to go for a judicial enquiry and to deny that South Africa had any influence on British policy. The escalation of rhetoric was such that the British cabinet was told that South Africa might resort to 'armed incursion' into Bechuanaland 'if Seretse were to be recognised forthwith'.
Why was Britain so craven to the Union of South Africa at this time? Historians point to Britain's continuing post-war economic crisis and to the Labour government's obsession with defence against the threat of international communism. South African gold, valued in U.S. dollars but sold exclusively through the Bank of England, was essential to the solution to Britain's dollar shortage—the repayment of all the wartime loans which had effectively bankrupted Britain by 1942-43. The Cape sea-route was seen as increasingly essential in naval strategy as an alternative safe passage to the Suez Canal. There was also in 1949, as Michael Dutfield has pointed out, the new factor of South Africa's supply of uranium to Britain for atomic power, which was both a by-product of gold mining and a contribution to Britain's economy and defence.
Britain's dependency on the Union was made all the more desperate after 1948 by a new governing party in South Africa, which threatened not only to break the Commonwealth link but also to nationalize British capital in South Africa. It was for such reasons that some British officials revived the idea of a separate dominion of 'Central Africa' in Southern Africa, as a counter-balance to disloyal South Africa.
Within South Africa, Britain's agenda was to get Smuts and his United Party back into power. Recognition of Seretse, it was argued, would create the white backlash that would keep Smuts and the United Party out of office. This may well have been Forsyth's implicit thesis with Baring on July 7th, 1949. It was certainly to be Smuts's explicit thesis with Baring on March 20th, 1950, in an interview that was 'almost word for word what Douglas Forsyth had said eight months earlier'. Support for South Africa's United Party was to be the main plank of British policy towards Seretse thereafter until after the party's disastrous electoral defeat in August 1954.
Ruth Khama flies in
Ruth Khama flew out from Britain to Bechuanaland, by BOAC Sunderland flying-boat to the Victoria Falls and then by a small hire plane to Francistown, in the middle of August 1949. Seretse, in a his new blue-green Chevrolet car, met her at Francistown and drove her south into the Bangwato Reserve. Seretse had arranged for them to be temporarily accommodated with Minnie Shaw ('Mma-Shaw'), a sympathetic English-born trader and temperance leader in the railway village of Palapye (Palapye Road). Palapye was, however, also full of the world's press. The railway station boasted the only established hotel and the only bar serving alcoholic drinks within the Reserve. Ruth and Seretse were therefore dogged by pressmen and presswomen at every step, but kept resolutely silent.
After an uneasy stay at Serowe with the Rev. Alan Seager —the L.M.S. missionary who had previously prayed publicly for their divorce—the couple managed to move to a new settler-style house in Serowe on August 29th. The house had been built at Bangwato expense to accomodate one of the foreign experts, an agricultural officer, recruited to the Tribal Administration by Tshekedi.
Tshekedi himself made sure that he had effectively moved out of Serowe for exile before Ruth arrived. He and his followers had their possessions piled into three new bright red lorries, bought for the purpose, which became an ominous symbol of Bo-Rametsana among ordinary Bangwato who referred to them by their colour as kgapamadi , meaning 'blood-red'. Police reports show that popular imagination was running riot with a baseless 'great fear' of night-time violence by kgapamadi thugs lurking in the hedgerows.
The Harragin enquiry
The colonial administration's decision to hold a judicial enquiry was announced on July 30th, followed by a long period of 'masterly inactivity' by the administration in hope of Ruth's revulsion from life in Bechuanaland. Tshekedi remained 'titular regent..shorn of power'. He and Seretse could not agree on the name of an interim Acting Chief. The Bangwato were disturbed by Tshekedi removing large herds of cattle from their country, but Serowe was reported 'quiet and deserted soon after nine o'clock at night'. Tribal administration slowly wound down, with all Kgotla court cases frozen except serious assaults and cattle thefts which went to the district commissioner's court
Meanwhile, in London, in the belief that liberal opinion in Britain could be swung behind Tshekedi, the C.R.O. cast around for evidence of black and white liberal opposition to the marriage in Africa. They found strong support for Tshekedi from his friends—notably Dr. A.B. Xuma the president of the African National Congress of South Africa, R.V. Selope Thema the most prominent African newspaper editor, and paramount chief Sobhuza II of Swaziland , as well as Tshekedi's fellow members of the South African Institute of Race Relations .
From Nigeria the C.R.O. made great play of a word of mouth report of two African delegates in the interval of an agricultural conference, overheard disparaging the marriage. This was transformed by a process of administrative whispers and wishful thinking into hard evidence of widespread West African opposition to Seretse.
The enquiry's terms of reference were finally announced on September 15th. Much to the disappointment of Gordon-Walker, the terms had to be limited within existing legislation on chiefly succession in the Protectorate—testing Seretse's suitability as 'a fit and proper person' to be Chief, and the legality of his popular acclamation in Kgotla. Great care had been taken avoid 'any suggestion that our attitude is in any way determined by purely racial considerations'. Much to Tshekedi's annoyance, the terms of the enquiry cited him as plaintiff against Seretse as defendant—a convention of confrontational Western law, as opposed to the more conciliatory nature of African law, which cast him clearly in the role of aggressor and pretender to the throne.
The judicial enquiry was convened in a large tent erected at Serowe in the extreme heat of Serowe on November 1st. Its chairman was the amiable Walter 'Pop' Harragin , chief justice for the High Commission Territories. Harragin's impartiality was questionable on the grounds that he sometimes acted as Baring's administrative deputy. There was also the suspicion, carried over from his days as chief justice on the Gold Coast, 'that in any case which involved politics, he would oblige the political administration...If the permanent civil service (apparently ministers don't count) want to remove Seretse Khama then Harrigin [sic] will play ball for sure and I think that the Tory head officials will so instruct Harrigin.'
The other two members of the judicial commission were Nettelton and an appointee of the Colonial Office in London, R.S. Hudson . Nettelton was appointed—despite doubts over his bias in favour of the Bangwato popular viewpoint, and despite his not 'fully realising' the wider political context. Hudson was an expert in customary law with wide experience of Northern Rhodesia, who had a healthy scepticism about chiefly succession: 'I think it will be found that historically the man who is strongest and who can gain the greatest following, will be the paramount chief as long as he belongs to the chief's family.'
Harragin's judicial enquiry collected ten volumes of evidence and a further three files full of submissions, before completing their report on December 1st. Much of the commission's time was taken up with Tshekedi, who insisted on them adjourning from Serowe for Lobatse, in the far south of the Protectorate, so he could talk freely. The commission was 'far more impressed' by Seretse's clear and concise contribution.
Seretse came alive under the cross examination of the attorney-general, with characteristics which were to serve him well in later years of statecraft. He was took points and argued persuasively and even humorously on his feet, like a born trial lawyer. The Johannesburg Star reported him looking the commissioners full in the face, and saying: 'I claim the chieftainship because it is due to me, and the tribe wants me. My morals are as good as any chief or regent in Bechuanaland Protectorate. My educational qualifications are probably better... '
Seretse's prestige was undeniably enhanced by his behaviour in front of the commission. His people were happy to recognise the attributes of a Kgosi in action; the commissioners found themselves admiring 'a typical African in build and features' who was able to express himself like an educated English gentleman. Tshekedi's bitter complaint, referring to himself in the third person, was:
Seretse has been told that he has no powers of a Chief, but in practice he is in control of the Tribe; he calls meetings, summons people from outside districts to Serowe, raises collections, calls out regiments, gives Letsema [i.e.royal permission to plough and sow], etc...nothing short of installing Seretse, giving him Khama's cattle, driving Tshekedi away but forcing all the people with him to return to Serowe, will satisfy Serowe Bamangwato today.
Interregnum at Serowe
Sillery's interim solution, while everyone awaited the outcome of the Harragin enquiry, was announced on December 16th—without any prior consultation of the Bangwato—that the local District Commissioner would replace Tshekedi as the 'Native Authority' of the Bangwato. (Sillery followed the precedent of administrative regulations in Tanganyika, where he had previously been a district officer for seventeen years.) Tshekedi, however, refused to formally resign from the post.
Seretse and the Bangwato now obtained the services of lawyer P.A. Fraenkel of Mafeking to counter Tshekedi and Buchanan. Buchanan seem to have temporarily lost their reason or good sense at this time, uttering modish but fantastical claims of 'communist plots' and conspiracies backing Seretse. The 'communist' in question was apparently Walter Pela , the old ex-policeman boarding master at Tiger Kloof, who was coordinating support for Seretse among young Bangwato in Johannesburg.
Seretse and Ruth had a long wait at Serowe before they saw any action on the part of the British authorities. With Tshekedi out of Serowe, Seretse was given all the respect if not all the responsibilities of an effective ruling Kgosi of the Bangwato, with his wife as Mohumagadi (queen). They lived on the edge of Serowe in their six-room house, with electric light and other modern conveniences such as a refrigerator and a shortwave radio. Five retainers or relatives acted as household servants. They socialized with friends and relatives around the town, driving in their large green American car. Ruth tried to improve her command of the Setswana language. They rode horses, and they played ping-pong together on the stoep (verandah). Lady Khama today recalls Seretse's playfulness in this period after their marriage. He might shout 'Look under that table!'. After she had stooped down and found nothing, he would burst into cheerful laughter saying that the dogs had taken it away. 'These few months', Seretse was to recall, 'were the happiest we had known.' Ruth Khama was also pregnant with their first child.
The resolve of Seretse and Ruth to have nothing to do with the press began to weaken in this period. The famous American photo-journalist Margaret Bourke-White, working for Time-Life , persuaded them to sit for photographs. She said it was more difficult than getting a photo opportunity with Joe Stalin. Her two photo-features on Seretse and Ruth in Life magazine took the love story to an enormous new audience in America, where the press had previously been fairly uninterested.
It was also at this time that Noel Monks , the hardbitten Australian roving correspondent of the London Daily Mail , took Seretse into the Palapye station hotel bar to flout its whites-only rule. This made Nicholas Montserrat, the High Commissioner's press minder, apoplectic. But Noel Monks was to claim that among local whites—officials and their wives excepted—'there's a wave of sympathy for Ruth and Seretse that no Government decree can kill.'
Another troublesome journalist for Montserrat was Julian Redfern of the London Daily Express . After writing The Cruel Sea about his war experiences, Montserrat was to satirize these journalists in his lengthy novel The Tribe that Lost its Head , his favourite best-seller. It transformed the Seretse story into steamy jungle 'tribal' mumbo-jumbo with bizarre sex.
Conspiracy at the C.R.O.
The Harragin Report , a relatively brief and sober document, was dispatched secretly to London on December 6th. It concluded that, while the June 1949 Kgotla had been properly convened and conducted, Seretse Khama 'is not a fit and proper person to discharge the functions of Chief'. But the reasons given were entirely circumstantial, and not at all related to the question of Seretse's character. On the contrary, the commission recommended recognition of Seretse 'should conditions change as they well might in a variety of ways.' The unstated condition was that, as the C.R.O. was to note, Seretse and Ruth might divorce.
The conditions under which Seretse could not be recognized were stated as follows. First, that Seretse could not be an effective chief while he was a prohibited immigrant to South Africa, as that precluded him from visiting the B.P. administrative headquarters at Mafeking located inside South Africa. Second, that 'friendly and cooperative' relations wereneeded with both South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, who objected to Seretse's recognition. And, third, that recognition of Seretse would 'undoubtedly cause disruption in the Bamangwato Tribe.' Only the third point fell inside the terms of reference of the judicial enquiry, but it was not elaborated upon in the body of the report. As to the other two points, they had been widely anticipated in the press and elsewhere—British government denials to the contrary. In the prescient words of a protest petition of Bangwato headmen in support of Seretse, dated November 7th, 1949:
We suspect that we and our interests and wishes may be sacrificed by the British Government since we are a small and helpless community, in order that more powerful neighbouring territories, thus appeaced [sic], may be retained within the British Commonwealth.
The Harragin Report caused panic in Baring's office at Pretoria and in the Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Offices in London, because it gave the 'right' conclusion for the 'wrong' reasons. One C.R.O. official, a former India Office man rather than Dominions Office man, J.P. Gibson , remarked that the Harragin Report had found 'Seretse to be a very fit and proper person to be Chief if it were not for his wife'. Gibson's own reading reading of the report suggested greater disruption among the Bangwato if Seretse were not recognised than if he were ! Creech-Jones and Andrew Cohen of the Colonial Office called the report's reasoning 'monstrous' and 'maladroit'.
Baring was flown over to Britain for an urgent series of meetings to discuss strategy. Extra reasons for banning Seretse had to be hastily concocted: African and white liberal opposition in Africa; the inability of the Bangwato as 'primitive and unlearned people' to make up their own minds'; Seretse's 'gross irresponsibility' in marrying without prior permission; the present ungovernability of the Bangwato pointing to the need to 'evolve' a 'a more acceptable and representative system of government' (including non-Ngwato 'allied peoples') than chieftainship; and, finally, the unsuitability of Ruth Khama to be a traditional 'queen' and of her children to be Seretse's successors.
Hudson of the Colonial Office objected strongly to all of these extra arguments, refuting them one by one. Two prominent man, Xuma and Selope Thema, did not constitute the whole of African opinion in South Africa. The Bangwato were by no means 'primitive and unlearned compared to other tribes in this part of Africa. Rather the reverse.' The reason for not recognising Seretse was quite simply its 'effect on neighbouring states'. Even Clement Attlee, the prime minister, asserted: 'It is as if we had been obliged to agree to Edward VIII's abdication so as not to annoy the Irish Free State and the U.S.A.'
When the British cabinet met at No.10 Downing Street on January 31st, 1950, it was preoccupied with an imminent general election and was easily bamboozled by the disarming presentation of the C.R.O. case by Noel-Buxton. It was decided to invite Seretse Khama and his wife to London for talks on their future, and to try to obtain his voluntary abdication. The Harragin Report could not be published; a White Paper setting out the government's views would be published instead.
The British cabinet thereby became party, though unwittingly, to a conspiracy hatched in Baring's office in South Africa six weeks earlier. 'The plot to get Seretse quietly out of the country', recalls Sillery in his unpublished memoirs, 'was hatched in Pretoria, in the High Commissioner's office, I think by Clark.'
The evidence in C.R.O. files suggests that the conspirators were Clark and Harragin in Pretoria, and Liesching and Gordon-Walker in London, linked by Baring who flew from the two in Pretoria to meet the two in London. No one else in London except these three needed to know anything about the 'plot' until the last moment when the C.R.O. had to make frantic preparations for the cabinet meeting in the last week of January 1950. Noel-Buxton was conveniently out of the country, at a conference in Ceylon, during those preparations; the Seretse Khama case was regarded by Attlee as Gordon-Walker's baby.
On the surface the 'plot' was merely following Noel-Baker's July 1949 suggestion, which had been turned down in favour of the Harragin enquiry, to call Seretse to London for talks. But its essence was the deception of first getting Seretse to fly to London in the expectation of open consultation, and then preventing him from returning home .
The only time the 'plot' was explicitly committed to paper was when Baring flew from South Africa to London in December 1949. Clark wrote a 'Note on Bamangwato Affairs' which was enclosed in a secret and personal dispatch to Liesching dated December 10th, which was probably carried to London by Baring in person. Clark argued that both Seretse and Tshekedi had to be kept outside the Bangwato Reserve: 'The present situation can only be met..by direct administration.' But Seretse should be kept sweet for future possible return as Chief when his marriage breaks up. In return for giving up his Chieftainship, he should be pressed with 'a generous offer of sufficient funds' to help him finish his law studies, and then a 'post in another part of the Colonial Empire' to stop him being 'disgruntled and therefore good material for communist propaganda.'
Seretse, Clark argued, could only be induced to make this voluntary renunciation in the calm atmosphere of London, where the C.R.O. could 'work' on him. If he then tried to return to the B.P., except to deal with his legal dispute with Tshekedi over Khama's Will in the high court at Lobatse, he could be kept out of the territory under the terms of Proclamation No.15 of 1907. Such a ploy would save the Bechuanaland Protectorate from the violent reactions that might result from announcing the government's decision while Seretse was still in the country, and having to expel him from the territory.
Seretse tricked into exile
The 'plot' was put into operation after the British cabinet meeting, despite a 'leak' in the press on February 4th that the government had decided not to recognise Seretse. Baring flew back to South Africa. Resident commissioner Sillery, 'rather exercised by conflicting press reports', was summoned from Mafeking to meet high commissioner Baring at Johannesburg airport, to be gulled into doing the deed. Baring carried with him a ciphered telegram that told Sillery: 'Cabinet...have not, repeat not, yet reached definite decision to withhold recognition in the event of [Seretse's] refusal'. But it had added an evasive proviso: 'If Seretse raises any question about passage back, or the cost of passage, Sillery should say that he will not be out of pocket over the journey.' This aroused Sillery's suspicion. Baring decided to spill the beans to Sillery in the presence of Cairns from his Pretoria office staff. Sillery recalls:
I objected...but Cairns (Cairns again!) chipped in...[which] seemed to clinch it with the rest of them and I was instructed to convey the Secretary of State's invitation to Ruth and Seretse. This I did without embellishment.
Sillery invited Seretse and Ruth to Mafeking, to offer them the poison chalice. They came eagerly by car, completing the arduous round-trip on dirt roads from Serowe within the day. The British cabinet, Sillery told them, was asking them to fly post-haste for urgent consultations, because it had not yet—press reports notwithstanding—made up its mind about action on the Harragin Report. Sillery then reported telegraphically to his superiors that Seretse 'agreed with no hesitation to proceed to London on aeroplane leaving Victoria Falls on February 10th. Ruth was a little cagey but made no demur.'
But Ruth Khama had smelted a rat. She suspected that if she went to Britain she would not be allowed to return to Bechuanaland. Seretse, for his part, refused to believe a British prime minister and his cabinet could possibly be so deceitful. In Kgotla the next day, 'discussion was heated'. Some said Ruth should stay behind. Sillery then arrived in Serowe and gave the couple lunch at the district commissioner's house. Ruth was talkative. Seretse, according to Sillery, seemed 'engrossed in own thoughts [and] had poor appetite and showed curiosity about return journey. We parried his questions.'
Sillery claims that he parried Seretse's questions about his return by sticking to the prearranged formula that he 'would not be out of pocket' on his air ticket. But Seretse and the Bangwato, and their lawyer Fraenkel and the international press corps at Serowe, were undoubtedly given the impression that Seretse would be given a ticket to return after about three weeks. Seretse was all keyed up to go to London and have it out with the C.R.O. in person. Ruth, it was agreed, should stay behind. She was expecting a child, and they were determined that an heir to the Khama line should be born in Khama's country.
Seretse alone left Serowe on February 10th, 1950, with a letter to Noel-Baker from the Bangwato, signed by Serogola Seretse and Obeditse Ratshosa as their representatives. The Bangwato said they were pleased that their Kgosi had been called to London for consultation. It was proof that the mutual relationship of trust, on which the protectorate between the British and the Batswana was founded, still lived. The Kgosi's wife could not come, however, as there was no guarantee in writing that she would be allowed to return. The Bangwato also expressed 'the traditional fear we have long had' of the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia:
Throughout our history both these countries seem to have sought to dispossess us of our land and our rights, and it was on account of this very apprehension that we originally sought the protection of Great Britain.
We submit that our apprehension at present is not unfounded, that our neighbours may endeavour to interfere in our domestic affairs, though we as a free people deny that they have any right to try even to influence the eventual decision which solely with ourselves and your Government.
* * *
The story of royal love and political intrigue on two continents made good copy for the international press. It brought unusual people and places onto a world stage. People recall BBC radio announcers spluttering over the word 'Kgotla', and the word itself entered the English language with recognition in Everyman's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases of 1952, under '692 COUNCIL ( Substantives )'.
Despite all denials to the contrary, everyone knew in their bones that it was white objections in South Africa and perhaps Rhodesia that had motivated the British government to pursue Seretse Khama. The story of Ruth and Seretse, which broke into world consciousness in 1949, thus brought South Africa as well as Bechuanaland into the world spotlight.
With the diversionary figure of Jan Smuts (1870-1950) and his United Party removed from power in 1948, South Africa began to be seen as a country bucking the trend of modernity towards a more open and humane society. Unlike other countries, it had not been changed for the 'better' by the Second World War, but was seen as going 'backwards' towards intolerance and inhumanity. At the same time, for the people of Bechuanaland, the 'Seretse affair' showed that their country was at the lowest point of its importance and prestige in relation to its white settler neighbours, the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia.
Seretse's BOAC Sunderland flying-boat landed on Southampton water on Tuesday February 14th, 1950, and Seretse was driven to London by his friend John Keith of the Colonial Office. Keith later reported to the C.R.O.:
Seretse was in a very firm mood, and had a shrewd appreciation of the issues at stake...he was not going to give in here and now; it was not a personal matter and he would have to go back and consult his tribe.
Liesching met Seretse on his arrival in London and found him 'relaxed and cheerful' but non-committal. The C.R.O. put Seretse into accommodation in rooms at Airways Mansions, in Charles II Street, in the Haymarket area south of Piccadilly Circus and a short walk from government offices in Whitehall.
Seretse faced the combined forces of the Commonwealth Relations Office—two ministers and two permanent officials—on February 16th. He had briefed himself well; while his legal adviser, the ancient and bumbling Lord Rathcreedan , proved silent and ineffective by his side. Why had Ruth not come, asked the ministers. Because the Bangwato suspected there was a 'trick on the part of the United Kingdom Government' afoot to get and keep her out of the country, Seretse replied. She had never been invited to take part in consultations before.
After a long and tortuous prologue about the dangers of the 'tribe' disintegrating, Noel-Baker asked Seretse to voluntarily relinquish his chieftainship, for the consideration of £800 (£1100 before tax) per annum. Seretse later recalled: 'I was stunned speechless. His calm unemotional manner was as unfeeling as if he were asking me to give up smoking.' Seretse characteristically riposted with a humorous throw-away remark with a sting in the tail. Would he still be free to engage in politics—say, in 'communist activities'? All laughed. What a good joke, said Noel-Baker. Perhaps Seretse would prefer to look after overseas students (as Keith's assistant in the Colonial Office).
Seretse then warmed to the attack with the suggestion that the British government 'thought it better to annoy the tribe than to annoy Mr. Malan.' Apparently stung, Noel-Baker replied, in 'strict confidence', that 'the U.K. differed greatly on certain things' from the Union and Rhodesian governments. But 'race relations in Southern Africa were explosive and must be thought about with great care.'
Responding to Noel-Baker's contention that his chieftainship would lead to disruption, Seretse said direct rule of the Bangwato by the British could only 'lead to disrespect and trouble'. Noel-Baker replied that it would promote 'an even more democratic form of government'. This played right into Seretse's hands. He could not agree to surrender the chieftainship withoutthe (democratic) right of consulting his people convened in Kgotla. They might otherwise think he was 'selling out' for money.
Would it not be better, Seretse asked, for him to be tried out as Chief for a probationary period? Could he see a copy of the Harragin Report? The answer to both questions was No. The next day Seretse underlined these points in an exposition of his case which impressed John Keith. He was not going to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage, but must consult his people first. Why couldn't the C.R.O. show him the Harragin Report? He could only deduce that it revealed the strength of Bangwato support for himself, and the British fear of white South African opinion.
'Seretse is a gentleman', observed Keith, 'and has a lot of moral courage'. Like Sillery, he was aware of being morally compromised and becoming much less than a gentleman himself in having to keep the full picture quiet to Seretse.
One receiving Keith's report, Noel-Baker flirted with the idea of letting Seretse into his confidence by 'frank discussion of race relations in the Union'. But then thought better of it. It was hard enough, as Baring remarked to Sillery, for 'a Socialist' like Noel-Baker to admit to himself, let alone to other people, 'that his motive in sitting on Seretse was unwillingness to offend South Africa'. This may explain why Noel-Baker was so relieved when Seretse gave him a pretext to delay further negotiations until after the general election when, due to ill health, he would no longer be Commonwealth Relations minister. Seretse had been so disquieted by Rathcreedan's lack of performance, that he wanted his Mafeking lawyer Fraenkel to fly over and assist him. The C.R.O. had agreed, but Fraenkel was delayed by the two week validation period needed after a yellow-fever injection.
Seretse, restrained from unburdening himself to anyone and cut off from Ruth and the Bangwato, was never more lonely in his life than that fortnight in the centre of London's West End during the election period. He could not mix with his student friends, and probably did not eat regularly. He could only drink in his rooms or, while trying to avoid press recognition and public conversation, in the bars around Piccadilly Circus. When Keith contacted Seretse at the end of February he found he was 'in very depressed frame of mind and is much worried...very homesick, [and] feels he cannot be absent much longer from his wife.' This resulted in a worried C.R.O. minute: 'We cannot detain Seretse here [yet] by any legal means.'
The British government's need for decisive action over Seretse grew ever more urgent. The C.R.O. busied itself with preparations during the period of the general election—elections which were to result in a re-elected Labour government with a reduced majority. Liesching proposed a five year suspension of recognition of Seretse as chief, during which Seretse and Ruth would be obliged to live abroad after Seretse's temporary return to settle his dispute with Tshekedi over property. Baring replied that Seretse's chieftainship would never be acceptable to South Africa so long as he was married to Ruth.
On Friday March 3rd, Seretse Khama met Patrick Gordon Walker for the first time, at the C.R.O. offices in Whitehall. Gordon Walker had replaced the dithering Noel-Buxton as Commonwealth Relations minister in the new post-election Labour cabinet. According to his then private secretary, Eleanor Emery , recalling him in later years, he was an ambitious and relatively youthful politician who got on well with C.R.O. officials. He consciously put his head in the noose of the Seretse affair as the price of a seat in cabinet. Gordon Walker already had somewhat of a reputation as a 'negrophobe', because of comments he had made in support for South Africa as a British delegate in United Nations deliberations over South West Africa. But his background was in India rather than the white Dominions. Attlee trusted him because he had known him in India while he was still a school-boy.
Gordon Walker was first introduced to Fraenkel, and then made a last-ditch attempt to get Seretse to resign his Chieftainship voluntarily. Once more Seretse declined to do so, without first consulting his people, and protested that the direct rule being imposed on his people left all questions of instituting 'democracy' among the Bangwato in abeyance. As he said good-bye to Seretse at the end of the meeting, unrecorded in official minutes, Gordon Walker made a clumsy, male-chauvinist and hurtful slur on Ruth's integrity which Seretse never ever forgave. Everything would be solved, Gordon Walker suggested, if Seretse returned to Bechuanaland and left Ruth in England. She would soon attach herself to another man and forget him!
On Monday March 6th, the first regular business meeting of the new British cabinet considered Seretse's chieftainship as its first issue, even before going on to the desperate situation of the British economy. The decision, to withhold recognition of Seretse and to exile him for five years, was rushed through as a matter of urgency, with the addition that Tshekedi would be similarly treated.
Seretse and Fraenkel were summoned to the C.R.O. for a meeting at 6 pm on the same day. Gordon Walker made the announcement to Seretse and asked him to keep it secret for a week, so it could be announced at a Kgotla meeting in Serowe.
'Am I being kicked out of my own country?' was Seretse's immediate response. Fraenkel protested that both Seretse and Ruth had been assured they would be free to return home after talks in London, and he had got the same impression from talking to W.A.W. Clark in person. Seretse said that he felt strongly that he had been tricked into coming to London, and was bitterly disappointed.
Seretse asked why the C.R.O. could not have made it clear from the start that they had no intention of recognising him. Gordon Walker then claimed somewhat disingenuously that all the C.R.O. had decided beforehand was to give Seretse the chance of 'voluntary resignation' in London. Gordon Walker denied that South Africa had anything to do with the decision, which was purely for the welfare of the tribe. After discussing arrangements for legal proceedings against Tshekedi and the welfare of Ruth Khama, the long meeting ended with Gordon Walker once again declining to show anyone the Harragin Report, which was solely 'of an advisory nature'.
'I am kicked out, and my wife is kicked out with me; that is the sum of it.'
Seretse, fuelled by a bitter personal resentment of Gordon Walker which he was never to lose, could no longer bottle up his boiling outrage at the injustice of the British government's diktat. First he broke the news to Ruth in a pithily worded telegram:'Tribe and myself tricked by British Government. I am banned from whole protectorate. Love Seretse'. He then broke his seventeen-month self-denying ordinance not to give interviews to the press. In Liesching's words, Seretse 'called a press conference on his own, blew the gaff, and therefore spoiled' all the well-laid plans of the C.R.O. to break the news in their own way. Seretse was reported as telling the press:
I am kicked out, and my wife is kicked out with me; that is the sum of it. I maintain it was because the British Government wanted to appease Dr. Malan, and to keep the Union of South Africa in the Commonwealth that they have done what they have done...It hurts a lot. It hurts as much as being told your people don't matter.
The next morning, the British press, predominantly Tory-supporting and gunning for the just re-elected Labour government, had a field day airing Seretse's highly justified indignation. The BBC Overseas Service carried the news to one Casalis, the self-appointed town crier of Serowe. It was the hot news of the newspapers of West and East as well as South Africa, and was featured in the newspapers of America, India and other Commonwealth countries. The South African press, with the exception of the Johannesburg Star , welcomed the British government's decision.
The New York Times , on the other hand, criticised the British government for giving way to Malan when the wider problem of Native feelings throughout Africa is infinitely more important. The whole continent of Africa is heaving under the same disturbing forces that have transformed Asia since the war. The Colonial Office obviously agreed, as it cabled all British governors in Africa to stand by for a parliamentary statement on Seretse Khama. The C.R.O. meanwhile softened up the Conservative Party central office, so that Opposition comments 'should not be unduly embarrassing to the Government.'
The Minister for Commonwealth Relations stood up in the House of Commons at 2.37 pm on Wednesday March 8th, 1950. The leader of the Liberal Party , Clem Davies , expressed his regret at government interference in the relations of man and wife. A government back-bencher, the Rev. Reggie Sorenson , asked if there had been any communications with the South African government over the issue. Gordon Walker then uttered the bare-faced lie in parliament that was to remain the bedrock of public justification of the policy towards Seretse Khama of successive British governments:
We have had no communication from the Government of the Union [of South Africa] nor have we made any communication to them. There have been no representations and no consultation in this matter.
The C.R.O. and Gordon Walker had taken care to square Anthony Eden and Lennox-Boyd on the Conservative front-bench, by letting them into the secret of South African official pressures prior to the parliamentary debate. The Conservative leader, Winston Churchill, however, doggedly pursued 'the point of honour' of whether Seretse was tricked or not into deposition and exile. He did not, however, question the main policy. He had probably already received in private correspondence the views of Smuts on the necessity to keep Seretse out.
In a later brief intervention, Churchill uttered a one-liner that was to become famous: 'It is a very disreputable transaction.' At another point in the long debate, Gordon Walker hesitated in using the word 'democratize' in justifying the reform of Bangwato tribal administration. A chorus of M.P.'s interjected 'Malan-ize!'—though the Hansard record of debate was to sanitize this word into 'mutualise'.
The one concession to Seretse, announced to an otherwise generally hostile House, was that Seretse could return temporarily to Lobatse in Bechuanaland, to settle legal issues over property with Tshekedi, and to collect his wife (and forthcoming baby).
Gordon-Walker's bare-faced lie was a trifle too categorical for the gentlemen of the Commonwealth Relations Office. There was some panic and a flurry of correspondence with the South African government. After all, Malan had stated twice in public meetings, at Paarl on 28 September and at Bloemfontein on 27 October 1949, that his government had immediately telegraphed the British government on hearing of the decision of the June Kgotla in Serowe. Malan was confusing his telegram to Leif Egeland, his high commissioner in London, with one direct to the British government, but the principle held good.
Now, at the end of March 1950, D.D. Forsyth in Cape Town telegraphed Leif Egeland once again: 'Prime Minister appreciates, of course, delicacy of situation'—adding wickedly that there would be 'all possible discretion so as to avoid embarrassment to Gordon-Walker'. Egeland guilelessly showed this message to the Commonwealth Relations Office. Malan had now got Gordon Walker with an arm twisted behind his back.
Bangwato protest at Serowe
The reaction of the Bangwato was to boycott the colonial administration, and in particular the Kgotla assembly called by the High Commissioner for March 13th, 1950. The Kgotla ground remained empty. The Bangwato could be legalistic too, claiming that only a true Kgosi could convene a Kgotla assembly.
The world's press were gathered in force to watch the public humiliation of such a grand proconsul and plenipotentiary of His Majesty as Sir Evelyn Baring, dressed all in white with feathers on his solar topee. Montserrat, growing 'more and more distraught', tried to pacify the press; but made matters worse by waspishly referring to the Bangwato regiments, peacefully picketing for the boycott, as 'thugs'.
Baring tried to engage the attention of the reporters by holding a press conference to explain away the reasons for Seretse's deposition and exile. But he found that even politically sympathetic South African journalists 'made it perfectly clear that they considered that what had really happened was the sacrifice of Seretse to save the High Commission Territories from transfer.' Not only did they know about Malan's statements about Seretse's chieftainship at Paarl and Bloemfontein, but they were also aware of a more recent dispute between Malan and Southern Rhodesian ministers over whose right it was to take over Bechuanaland.
As a result of the boycott of his Kgotla meeting, Baring took two decisive pieces of action. The first was vindictive. He arranged for the immediate removal of a white South African couple at Palapye who had been actively friendly with Seretse and Ruth Khama. Alan Bradshaw and his wife managed the mine labour-recruitment office at Palapye. Baring told Bradshaw's employers, the Native Recruiting Corporation in Johannesburg, a subsidiary of the Witwatersrand chamber of mines, that Bradshaw had helped the boycott his Kgotla.
Baring also put in hand moves to check the deterioration of law and order at Serowe. He arranged for the return to Serowe of two successful former district commissioners who had gone on to higher posts abroad. The tough-minded Forbes Mackenzie was to be brought over from Swaziland; and the much more conciliatory G.A. ('Gerry') Germond was to be brought all the way from the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean—almost Botswana's antipodes.
Protest in Great Britain
The first body in Britain to make a public protest on Seretse's behalf was a meeting of women gathered to celebrate International Women's Day —a new institution which Attlee himself regarded as communist-inspired.
Fellow African students and prominent African-Caribbeans rallied round Seretse in London. One of the first protest letters addressed to Attlee was from the West African Students Club at Oxford University, signed by its president E.A. Boateng —who was to become a distinguished Ghanaian academic geographer.
The main leader of the Caribbean community in Britain, the famous cricketer Learie Constantine, brought together a ' Seretse Khama Fighting Committee' . It held a meeting of eight hundred people in Dennison Hall, home of the Anti-Slavery Society on Vauxhall Bridge Road, on March 12th, 1950. Constantine presided, and the meeting carried a motion calling for Seretse's return to his people and for publication of the Harragin Report.
Seretse sat behind a table on the platform chain-smoking and feeling very unwell. As the applause died down, Seretse apologised for being 'rather groggy'. When a woman shouted 'Cheer up, Seretse!' from the audience, he replied: 'Thank you.' He explained that he had been skipping meals because of the pressure of events. After a very short speech, Seretse sat down and was whisked off to a taxi—because he had to attend yet another protest meeting that night.
There was already a 'Campaign Committee for South Africa and the High Commission Territories' among students at the London School of Economics. Other bodies that came to Seretse's aid included the National Council for Civil Liberties, and the League of Coloured Peoples.
The Seretse Khama Fighting Committee presented itself to the new Colonial minister, James Griffiths , on March 17th, with Commonwealth Relations minister Gordon Walker in attendance. Members of the committee referred to Gordon Walker's reputation as a 'negrophobist', a charge which he indignantly denied. Constantine, whom the Colonial Office accepted as a man of 'a certain standing', even suggested that 'coloured British subjects' would be prepared to provide an army to defend the High Commission Territories from South African aggression.
Support for Seretse Khama was surprisingly strong in Scotland, where nationalist resentment of English rule had taken on a new lease of life. Another 'Seretse Khama Defence Committee' was founded in Edinburgh by a Nigerian student together with a young lecturer in colonial and American history called George Shepperson . After petitioning the Colonial Office, they held a protest meeting in Oddfellows Hall. The Scottish National Party then proudly announced that it had elected Seretse Khama as one of its vice-presidents.
Commonwealth & American responses to a White Paper
Meanwhile the Commonwealth Relations Office, holding to its resolution not to publish the Harragin Report, was 'cooking' a White Paper to justify its actions against Seretse.
Baring saw the main purpose of the White Paper as being to subtly refer to the 'geographic position and economic weakness' of the High Commission Territories in relation to their neighbours. It was intended to have a paragraph denying influence either by white governments or white public opinion in Southern Africa. But this was dropped after Hector McNeil , the new Secretary of State for Scotland, protested at its mendacity and immorality. Attlee's only objection was an 'americanism' in the syntax—the use of the word 'around'. All mention of the real reason for Seretse's deposition was thereby avoided in the White Paper as published.
It was at this point that Sillery, the Resident Commissioner at Mafeking, came near to resigning over such a 'highly disingenuous document'. 'I hope', adds Sillery in his unpublished memoirs, 'that posterity will not think that I had anything to do with it.' Instead he was allowed to leave on mid-year vacation to Britain, and was then asked not to return to Bechuanaland by Baring.
Meanwhile, Gordon Walker began to waver under the onslaught of press and parliament. Government ministers were to later admit, in private, that there had been a danger of the Labour government falling in a vote of no confidence—if Labour's left wing was to combine with the Tories over the Seretse issue. During parliamentary question time on March 16th, Gordon Walker appeared to concede that Seretse's imminent temporary return to Bechuanaland, to settle his affairs, might be allowed to become indefinite in length. Some Labour M.P.'s then speculated on Seretse's being allowed to become Chief after a year.
Reports of this in London made General Jan Smuts in Cape Town call urgently on Sir Evelyn Baring, when 'he spoke very seriously to me.' Such a move, claimed Smuts echoing his acolyte Forsyth eight or nine months earlier, would enflame white opinion in South Africa so much that the National Party would call and win a general election—on the platform not only of demanding the High Commission Territories but also of declaring a republic outside the Commonwealth. Smuts was prepared to London to press the case against Seretse. Smuts had already written Churchill a long letter in the previous week begging Britain not to give way to the Bangwato, as it would induce the natives in South Africa to resist their government too.
The British government intended to publish the White Paper while Seretse was in the air out of the way of the press, en route for Lobatse. But Seretse postponed his flight on the BOAC flying-boat to Victoria Falls, and forfeited a free ticket from the C.R.O. in order to leave on the day after publication.
As it turned out, the White Paper said so little that little could be said of it. Seretse wrote a well-argued letter to The Times newspaper, which appeared on March 24th, the morning of his departure. He mocked the official reasoning of giving the Bangwato 'more representation of the people' when the people's will had been ignored. As for himself, he had been 'banished...For what? No crime, except that I have married an Englishwoman.' An official was to scribble 'worse than a crime—a blunder' next to this newspaper clipping in the C.R.O. files.
The South African press, well prepared ahead by Montserrat, generally welcomed the White Paper. The Cape Argus even published articles by old Sir Charles Rey , Tshekedi's nemesis of the 1930s, supporting Tshekedi against Seretse. (Another ex-governor retired at the Cape, Sir Charles Dundas, had remarked ten days earlier in the same newspaper: 'Has it occurred to you that Seretse's uncle got into serious trouble for beating a European, and now Seretse is in trouble for marrying one?') The Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger thought the most disturbing new phenomenon revealed by the Seretse 'affair' was 'the existence in Britain of a strong clamorous and uninformed mass on conditions and problems' of Southern Africa.
The West African press responded more vigorously. The Lagos Daily Service carried the headlines 'No t Cricket, Sir!' and 'Et Tu, British'. The Nigerian Eastern Mail attacked the White Paper 'as a monument of insincerity...a slap in the face for all moderate Africans who have..urged co-operation with Britain and confidence in her promise to lead us on the road to self-government.' The Freetown Evening Dispatch in Sierra Leone thundered in more characteristic old coastal style:'Is this democracy or is it a demonstration of hitleric power? The African cosmos shakes, the African ground trembles and from the four corners of the African horizon comes out the words..."Let justice be done though the heavens should fall".'
In India, a Calcutta newspaper claimed: 'For every white man placated in South Africa, a hundred Indians and Pakistanis have been affronted.' Krishna Menon , a former Labour political figure in Britain, made representations over Seretse, first as India's high commissioner to London and then as India's U.N. representative in New York.
Far more disturbing for the British government was a burst of concern from the United States of America. Ruth and Seretse having featured twice in Life magazine in two months. David C. Williams of Americans for Democratic Action (national chairman, Hubert H. Humphrey) privately contacted Gordon Walker. The C.R.O. were dismissive until their Foreign Office colleagues impressed on them the importance of the A.D.A. as 'a sound and useful organisation... associated with the Democrat Party'. One interview with them was worth more than any single newspaper report. When Williams met Gordon Walker he presented him with a letter written by a socialist called L. Finnegan , public relations officer for one of America's two great trade union organizations. Finnegan had written:
It would be difficult to exaggerate the repercussions of the Seretse affair among some quarters here...The Negro press—which is a highly influential medium—is full of the Seretse debacle...unhappy conclusion: our discrimination, our jim crow ain't really so bad...i wish you could hear some of the union Negro leaders talk about the Labor Govt now.
Seretse was now a centre of attention in London, while Ruth was the centre of attention in Serowe. A London journalist meeting Seretse in London, having previously met him at Serowe, 'more than half expected that all this ballyhoo would have gone to head', but 'found him just the same quiet, modest chap'. Seretse was receiving offers of legal partnership from the Gold Coast to as far as Brazil . South African newspaper reporters were equally surprised to be well received, with a choice of teas, by Ruth Khama, who 'has emerged from the role of mystery woman to one of the most publicised women in the world.'
C.R.O. and other colonial officials began to see Ruth as their real enemy. She had been quoted in the press calling them 'little nitwits'. A Picture Post journalist named Fyfe Robertson (later made famous by television) tried to give the C.R.O. a more realistic picture in April 1950 on his return from Serowe. He told them that Ruth Khama had 'practically no contact with local tribesmen, cannot speak two words of their language, and shows no inclination to take an interest in native affairs.'
It was to be Tshekedi Khama, rather than Seretse or Ruth Khama, who was to cause by far the most trouble for successive British governments over the next six years.
Seretse's temporary return to Bechuanaland
Seretse landed at Gaborone airfield in south-eastern Bechuanaland on Friday 31 March 1950 in a small hired Dragon Rapide airplane. It had flown down the railway from Livingstone and Bulawayo in the north, over-flying Mahalapye airfield. At Mahalapye, a press cameraman took an evocative photograph of Ruth Khama, heavily pregnant, waving a furled umbrella in greeting to the plane which was not allowed to land in the Bangwato Reserve.
Hundreds of Bangwato, who had camped at the historic morula tree near the railway station at Gaborone, greeted Seretse at the local airfield. At the same time four more planes full of reporters landed from Johannesburg. Movietone news-film cameras recorded Seretse's greeting by his 'uncle' Peto Sekgoma, with the small dog of a visiting American anthropologist ( Thomas J. Larson ) running around their heels. Seretse was escorted in a car on the rough dirt road seventy kilometres southwards to a small house in the small railway township of Lobatse, where he awaited permission to visit the Bangwato Reserve.
Seretse was permitted home for a one-day visit on Sunday April 16th, 1950. He and Ruth met and embraced, with cameras flashing around them, in the early hours of that morning as Seretse arived driving a small truck at their house in Serowe. For the whole of that day, Seretse was dogged in his footsteps by the ever vigilant Montserrat growling and snapping at the heels of the press reporters.
Seretse was officially gagged from speaking to any Bangwato, but so many people gathered round that he was obliged out of politeness to address and greet them, asking them to disperse quietly. This made Forbes Mackenzie, the tough district commissioner who had just taken over at Serowe, furious—but he had to admit that Seretse had not gone far enough to be banned from a second visit to Serowe.
That second visit took place at very short notice on the evening of May 15th at the Sekgoma Memorial Hospital (named after Seretse's father), a few hours after the birth of his daughter Jacqueline Tebogo Khama . Great was the joy among C.R.O. officials in London that it was not a boy claimant to the throne—though the elderly Baxter did not take kindly to younger officials running and shouting 'It's a girl' in the corridors. Exactly a month later, Seretse collected Ruth and Jacqueline in his apple green Chevrolet, and they drove south along the long corrugated dirt road to Seretse's accommodation in Lobatse
* * *
Meanwhile, Seretse and Tshekedi were reported to have started moves towards legal reconciliation over property at the end of April. Tshekedi, assisted by Michael Fairlie , a young colonial officer assigned to the task, had spent months counting and dividing cattle between those of Khama's will, which Tshekedi claimed as his own, and those of Sekgoma's will, which Tshekedi acknowledged as Seretse's.
It was Tshekedi's rounding up of royal cattle for himself which incited anti-BoRametsana demonstrations in Serowe in April. Seretse had wanted to sue Tshekedi in the high court at Lobatse for a greater share of the royal herds. Eventually the two men were brought together by intermediaries and shook hands on an out-of-court settlement on June 17th, 'in an atmosphere of great cordiality'.
On July 8th uncle and nephew went off in a truck on a tour to inspect the cattle-posts in question, in remote sandy reaches of the England-sized Bangwato Reserve. For almost three weeks Seretse and Tshekedi lived closely together. In the long hours of bumping along dusty main roads and winding along sand-tracks, sitting by camp-fires on cold winter nights and sharing the food cooked for them by retainers, they regained something of their old intimacy. Tshekedi rediscovered 'my Seretse of old'.
On their first stop, at Mookane on the southern border of the Reserve, they agreed to be frank with each other. Tshekedi subsequently 'boldly suggested' to Seretse that it were perhaps best for the Bangwato if a form of Tribal Council replaced Chieftainship, and that they both gave up their hereditary claims to office. Seretse should then be allowed to return from exile overseas. Furthermore, a federation of all the Bechuana Tribes was desirable for progress.
Seretse seems to have thought these generally good ideas, though there was no mention of a timetable or acceptance of Tshekedi's previous contention that a federation should be led by the Bakwena as senior Tribe. In return Tshekedi thought himself generous in conceding four disputed cattle-posts. Tshekedi drove to see the High Commissioner in Pretoria on August 5th, to ask for a very large government loan to buy many of Seretse's cattle.
Apparently nothing was said of the marriage in all the exploratory talks between Seretse and Tshekedi. But the first meeting of Tshekedi with Ruth, by chance in a Lobatse trading store on or around August 1st, proved remarkably undramatic. Tshekedi then charmed Ruth by going round to their house and being complimentary about their small baby.
But the fate of Seretse and Ruth Khama had already been sealed by the British government. Cabinet had met on June 29th and decided that Seretse and Ruth must be expelled if necessary from the whole Protectorate; and it was even desirable to induce them to live somewhere other than Britain, as 'Seretse's wife was likely to be [too] troublesome' in Britain.
When Seretse and Ruth Khama declined to leave Bechuanaland voluntarily, they were served with deportation orders on August 2nd, 1950, by Arthur (W.A.W.) Clark of the High Commissioner's office. Arthur Clark was impressed with their sang-froid on receiving the news. Ruth moved him to reluctant admiration with a surprisingly light-hearted humour. 'Seretse undoubtedly feels very sore; his often lethargic manner cloaks deep feelings.'
Clark arranged for Seretse and Ruth to fly out from Gaborone to Livingstone, at the Victoria Falls, on August 17th. They would fly in the the Royal Air Force plane allocated to the High Commissioner's office, a small Devon passenger aircraft.
After Clark got wind of rapprochement with Tshekedi from Seretse, Baring managed to extract the gist of it from Tshekedi. It put Baring into a flat spin, especially the suggestion that both could return to the Bangwato Reserve as private citizens, having both renounced the Chieftainship. Baring had to tell Tshekedi that Seretse's return in any guise 'would inevitably arouse passions in the Union'. Tshekedi agreed to play down the reconciliation and to keep it secret until after he had met Seretse again in London early next year.
Baring and the C.R.O. were determined to break the rapprochement between Seretse and Tshekedi, because it would blow their cover-story justifying Seretse's exclusion from Bechuanaland—leaving no credible public justification for the secret 'main policy' of keeping Seretse out to appease 'white South Africa'.
Seretse and Tshekedi's Joint Statement
On August 16th, 1950, Seretse and Tshekedi agreed on a Joint Statement at Lobatse, which was made to those Bangwato present and copied to the High Commissioner.
They called on their people to end their boycott of the colonial adminstration's direct rule of the Bangwato Reserve 'while discussions continue on...a system of Native Administration acceptable to and run by the people themselves.' They called on the colonial government to involve both of them, as well as other African and European experts, in working out a new system of tribal government. Finally they both claimed the rights of 'citizenship' as individuals and asked that they both be allowed to return home to 'Bamangwatoland'.
Addressing a group of Bangwato, Seretse is said to have explained: 'it is useless for you to call me your chief when I am chief of the fish only, and it is better to regard me as an ordinary citizen living among you.'
The two men also committed to paper, in a secret Aide-Memoire , the understanding they had reached on those cold nights by the camp-fire in July. The Aide-Memoire was, in Seretse's reported words a year later, 'a gentleman's agreement', laying out 'certain possibilities such as both of us renouncing our own and own children's claims to the tribal chieftainship'. It stated that they would both return to 'Bamangwatoland' to participate in politics and administration only as 'ordinary citizens'. The Aide-Memoire was to be the basis for further negotiations between Seretse and Tshekedi when they met in England in the New Year. Neither would publish its terms without first consulting the other. Meanwhile they would both prepare the ground for acceptance of its proposed terms with 'people who are in contact with Government circles'.
The waters were subsequently muddied by their legal advisers. Buchanan tried to encourage Tshekedi to trick Seretse into surrendering the succession rights of his children while retaining those of his own.
Fraenkel handed out a printed broadsheet of declaration to the Bangwato on behalf of Seretse to the press, just as Seretse's plane was taking off from Gaborone airfield—its Setswana version being addressed Go batho ba me ('To my people'). The printed text included phrases which Seretse had deleted from the final version handed to British officials, referring to himself as 'hereditary Chief according to your custom'. Tshekedi failed in subsequent attempts to get these corrections noted by the press, through his old friend the New York Times correspondent in Johannesburg.
* * *
Seretse flew out of Gaborone into exile as arranged, on the morning of August 17th, accompanied by his wife and daughter, with his half-sister Naledi acting as nurse maid. The Devon aircraft had been surrounded until take-off by police and R.A.F. guards deployed to stop any kidnap-rescue attempt. Montserrat was assigned as their official escort on board the Devon. At his suggestion, the plane buzzed streets of cheering people at Serowe on its way direct to Livingstone in Northern Rhodesia. This cannot have pleased Montserrat's boss, Baring, who had allotted his official aircraft to Seretse precisely to avoid 'any stunts such as flying low over Mahalapye or Serowe to bid farewell' by a hired airplane.
Next morning, Montserrat went to pick up the Khamas from the district commissioner's house in the town of Livingstone, where they had stayed overnight. Seretse refused to hurry his breakfast to catch the BOAC Sunderland flying-boat, which about to land on the Zambezi river above the Victoria Falls on its way north from the Vaal Dam in South Africa:
I could not really blame him; he had me by the tail anyway, and my impatience as he worked his way through the mealie porridge, the eggs and bacon, the soft rolls with chunky marmalade, the cup after cup of coffee, must have been laughable—especially as it was the last laugh he was going to enjoy in this part of the world, for a very long time.
Once the Khamas were on board the Sunderland, Montserrat melodramatically cabled the High Commissioner's office in Pretoria with the single word: 'EXIT'. The Johannesburg Star newspaper complimented Seretse on 'a great deal of dignity' in the manner of his leaving.
The C.R.O. had even more cause to be grateful, because Seretse also dropped his legal case against the High Commissioner. Seretse's lawyer, Fraenkel, had started proceedings on July 20th to get declared invalid the High Commissioner's refusal to recognise Seretse as Chief. As well as being publicly acclaimed in 1949, Seretse could claim to have been recognised as Chief back in 1925, on the death of his father—predating all the legislation of 1934, 1943 and 1950 on which the High Commissioner based his powers not to recognise Seretse.
The C.R.O.'s legal advisers eventually concluded, after Seretse had actually dropped the case as a gesture of good will, that Seretse would have won his case! They therefore rushed to frame more watertight legislation to invalidate Seretse's case should he revive it. In the words of the a principal legal officer: 'What we can & must do...is to ensure...that the law is such that...the Courts will have to give the answer we desire.'
Seretse and family arrive back to exile in London
The Khamas were greeted as celebrities by the press in London. Reporters cooed over baby Jacqueline with free drinks provided by Seretse at the Grosvenor Court Hotel in Davies Street, Mayfair.
Seretse was comfortably off financially, as he was to receive a monthly allowance of £1,100 before tax from the British government, charged against Bechuanaland Protectorate funds, as well as capital from the liquidation of some of his cattle assets back home. He had left the rest of his cattle herds under the charge of his young 'uncle' Peto Sekgoma. The apple-green Chevrolet, an asset with much higher value in Britain than at home, was also being shipped over duty-free, together with household furniture, all at British government expense. (When the car arrived and Seretse went to collect it from the docks, he met with racist hostility from dock-workers, jealous that a mere 'nigger' should possess such opulence.)
On October 4th the family took up residence in a third floor flat at No.7 Fernshaw Mansions, a fairly prosperous old block with fresh paint and a Turkish stair-carpet, in Chelsea.
Peter Lewis, a junior officer of the C.R.O., visited them in Chelsea as part of his duties on November 14th. They had made themselves at home with leopardskin and buck karosses on the floor. Baby Jacqueline was being washed and dressed for bed in front of the sitting-room fire. Seretse's sister Naledi lived with them, as was enrolling to train as a nurse in London. A 'probably Germanic' woman helped with washing and cooking.
Seretse told Lewis that he had arranged to re-start tutorials for the Bar exams in January 1951. Lewis tried to encourage him not to rush into exams before November 1951 or even May 1952. The couple seemed resigned to a long exile, and Seretse talked of becoming a barrister in West or East Africa. They gave Lewis an 'alarmingly hot' curry, and at one point Seretse excused himself to listen to the closing stages of a boxing match. Otherwise they drank whisky and discussed food rationing, Christmas cards, marriage and divorce—they deplored hasty marriages and the number of divorces at present.
Talking about British politics, Ruth called herself a 'true blue Conservative', and referred to Seretse as a 'Socialist'. As for poor Evelyn Baring, C.R.O. officials were surprised to learn that Seretse enquired sympathetically after his health. (The 'Seretse affair' being a major cause for its decline.)
Seretse's accord with Tshekedi had been broken a few days before Lewis's visit. Tshekedi felt himself baited to extremes, first by the words and then by the deeds of Peto Sekgoma, who was acting as Seretse's agent in 'Bamangwatoland'. Peto started by digging wells for Seretse on the Nata river in the north at the Gogwane cattle-post claimed by Tshekedi. After Tshekedi contacted Seretse, Seretse agreed to stop Peto, but urged Tshekedi to make his promised visit to England as soon as possible.
What then tripped Tshekedi's fury was the deliberate arson—he was sure was at Peto's instigation —of the royal dwelling behind the Kgotla on October 17th. The fire destroyed the memorabilia not just of Tshekedi but of Khama's visit to Queen Victoria in 1895.
Tshekedi also got word that Seretse's friend the M.P. Fenner Brockway (the son of an L.M.S. missionary in India) had stood up at Westminster, on October 19th, to ask that Seretse now be designated Chief—because Tshekedi was now agreeable. This misrepresentation, Tshekedi concluded, must be Seretse's doing. On November 8th Tshekedi wrote accusing Seretse of going back on their agreement Without waiting for a reply, he broke the story to the press four days later.
Lewis of the C.R.O. visited Seretse and Ruth Khama for a second time on 31 January 1951. He found the Chelsea flat now almost completely carpeted with bigger and better karosses. A two foot high photographic collage of hisfather and grandfather, given to Seretse by Tshekedi the previous August, hung above the fireplace and dominated the sitting-room.
After the baby was put to bed, and the Germanic baby-sitter briefed, Lewis took the couple by No.14 bus to dinner at a Hungarian restaurant, the 'Czarda' in Dean Street, Soho. Seretse was disappointed not to find beef steak on the menu. They drank red wine with the meal. 'Seretse confessed later that he would rather have had beer.' Seretse and Ruth then took Lewis to the Sugar Hill club, off Duke Street in St James, which was frequented by blacks and whites. They introduced him to the Jamaican athlete Macdonald Bailey . (As Clark of the C.R.O.was to remark, the Sugar Hill was hardly the sort of place of which Tshekedi would have approved.)
Lewis was impressed by Seretse's sense of the comic, and noticed that he suppressed any sign of bitterness at his treatment by the British. Above all, he had 'an honesty and directness in dealing with people, and a right judgment of them':
It would to my mind be a tragedy if these qualities were to be frustrated by bitterness, or inactivity, or neglect.
Keaboka Kgamane presiding at Serowe
Moves towards the formation of a new council form of 'tribal' government went slowly ahead at Serowe. Keaboka Kgamane as nominated as its head, sometimes referred to as 'president', on 16 October 1950. But the C.R.O.refused to recognise the validity of the council until Tshekedi's followers were allowed to join it freely.
Baring flew to London and argued against W.A.W. Clark, Tshekedi's supporter now transferred from Pretoria to the C.R.O., that Tshekedi was 'proving very difficult' and was 'no longer of value as an ally'—and therefore ought to be stamped on. Tshekedi and his followers had grown intensely unpopular among the Bangwato, because they had seized and removed cattle and property previously considered 'tribal' or royal property, allegedly using strong-armed tactics to do so.
Gordon Walker steeled himself to stop at Serowe on February 1st in the new Year, when he was to visit southern Africa. He would stop there between visits to Southern Rhodesia and South Africa—both of which were making claims to take over Bechuanaland. It was agreed within the C.R.O. to adopt 'reduced speed' in pushing the formation of a 'new model native authority' at Serowe, to await the emergence of a 'third division' in Bangwato politics—grown fat on the 'sweets of office', loyal neither to Seretse or Tshekedi and preferably representing the 'allied tribes' beyond the true-Ngwato él ite .
In the Serowe Kgotla, on February 1st, 1951, Gordon Walker puffed his pipe and addressed up to ten thousand Bangwato, beginning with a greeting that followed phoenetic notes: 'Bang-wato, Doo-may-lang' ( Bangwato, Dumelang ). He spoke of plans to develop water resources and an abattoir in the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The reply of the people to Gordon Walker was given by Monametse Chiepe , the bright political star of the Bangwato who was not only a university graduate like Seretse but also a member of the non-Ngwato 'allied tribes'. Chiepe's speech was summed up in the newspapers as: 'Give us back Seretse. Banish Tshekedi.'
Seretse in London must have taken heart from the press reports and cinema newsreel. Tshekedi was even more furious than before. Gordon Walker, anxious as ever to play the racist card and confirming his reputation as a 'negrophobist', wrote back to the C.R.O. arguing the need to 'start a judicious campaign about the dangers of a half-caste Chief.' He added:
The ideal outcome would be that the Bamangwato themselves should say to Seretse that he must either abandon Ruth and become Chief or renounce the Chieftainship. If we firmly exclude Tshekedi, I believe that this may happen. Baring has seen the above and agrees with it. Arthur Clark at the C.R.O. objected that the British government could be party neither to racialistic propaganda against miscegenation, nor to 'engineering' a divorce.
Clark could also see no reason why Tshekedi, arguably the biggest rancher in southern Africa with 25,000 head of cattle, should not be content with exile at Rametsana. His energies might also be used for consultancies to government on water development, etc. But Tshekedi was obsessed with his banishment from the Bangwato Reserve, and was determined to come to England.
Tshekedi in London
Tshekedi arrived in London on March 16th, 1951, and did not leave until the beginning of August. During that time he pressed ceaselessly for the end of his internal exile at Rametsana in the Kweneng Reserve and for his return home to the Bangwato Reserve.
Rev. Michael Scott assisted him closely and Scott's aide Mary Benson, a South African political activist, became Tskekedi's temporary secretary. As she puts it in her autobiography, Tshekedi flooded the C.R.O. with 'long and complex memoranda' in a military style campaign to break down the ministry's resistance to his viewpoint.
When this proved ineffectual, Tshekedi turned to lobbying political support inside all three political parties at Westminster. He still had not contacted his nephew or seen him in London.
Seretse and his family had meanwhile moved out of their Chelsea flat, when the lease had run out in March, to a flat in Albany Street on the eastern side of Regent's Park.
Seretse and Gordon Walker had another meeting after the latter's return to Britain, in March. It was evident to C.R.O. officials that Seretse was worried about Tshekedi's visit and had given up, at least temporarily, on his legal studies. The C.R.O. had to contact Seretse in early May, interrupting a family tour of Cornwall by car, in order to get his consent on some of Tshekedi's cattle ranching arrangements. Seretse proved amenable enough, and Tshekedi took this as a cue to make contact.
When his uncle phoned and asked Seretse to visit him, Seretse said Tshekedi must visit him first. A few days later Tshekedi went round to Albany Street on the occasion of Jacqueline's first birthday. The two men talked calmly for a while, without rancour, and subsequently kept up occasional contacts while Tshekedi was in town. But Seretse declined to publicly support his uncle's return from Rametsana to the Bangwato Reserve, as Tshekedi still did not publicly accept the marriage.
Seretse reserved his position and reverted to previous claims by issuing a press statement of his own on June 5th, arguing for his own return home as Chief to assist in 'peace, democratic government and a progressive improvement in their standard of living' for his people. As for the succession of his children, that was a purely academic question that could be settled in Kgotla many years hence.
By end of June of 1951, the second Labour government of 1950-51 was once again facing the prospect of a parliamentary defeat on a vote of no confidence over a Khama—but this time it was over Tshekedi and not Seretse.
Once again the Cabinet was told in no uncertain terms, after the advice to Baring of Smuts's successor as leader of the United Party in South Africa, that it was more important to keep South Africa in the Commonwealth than to satisfy the Khamas. D.D. Forsyth was also in London to put South Africa's case. Defence and economic considerations were now considered even more important than before with South Africa; and Southern Rhodesia had to be placated in order to get the proposed Central African Federation (of Southern and Northern Rhodesia with Nyasaland) up and running.
Tshekedi cobbled together an alliance of sufficient Labour M.P.'s together with Liberals and Conservatives for the government to be threatened. The Liberal Party arranged for a debate in the Commons, while the right/left combination of Lord Salisbury and Lord Stansgate (father of Tony Benn) raised a debate in the Lords.
Cabinet had already decided that the best ploy was to leave the decision to the Bangwato, confident that the Bangwato would vote to keep Tshekedi out. There would be 'a further kgotla in Serowe at which two or three M.P.'s will be present as observers'.
The Commons debate on the Liberals' motion to rescind Tshekedi's banishment, lasted from 3.45 in the afternoon until the division bells rang at 10 that night. The debate was wide-ranging, and both Attlee and Churchill were somewhat self-congratulatory about its qualities.
Attlee: I think it is all to the good that, in the midst of present world affairs, the House should devote a day to the affairs of a small tribe in Africa, and concern ourselves with the rights of individual citizens.
Churchill : We have had a deeply interesting debate and I think I may say that I have rarely listened to a debate which has caused more heart searchings on both sides of the House than this..all of us want to give a right, honest, sincere, truthful opinion upon the issues which are before us.
But the parliamentary whips forced M.P.'s on both sides to vote against their consciences, and the vote was lost by 300 to 279. Churchill, passing a Labour member going to vote in the other lobby, remarked with a grin: 'We are both going in the wrong direction.' The future Labour leader Michael Foot was later to recall this occasion as 'the worst vote I ever cast in theHouse.'
Tshekedi, assisted by Michael Scott and Mary Benson continued to lobby heavily among parliamentarians until he returned home. Seretse and Ruth were also feted by their parliamentary supporters—notably the eccentric Tom Driberg of the Labour party, who invited them to his bizarre wedding reception on the riverside terrace of the House of Commons. This was the first recorded occasion when Seretse made humorous play of the embarrassment of white friends unthinkingly using the racist expression 'nigger in the woodpile'. In this case the perpetrator was Kingsley Martin , editor of the weekly political journal New Statesman , then considered left-wing but extremely influential.
To satisfy the pro-Tshekedi lobby, the Labour government sent out three Observers to Bechuanaland to attend Kgotla meetings in July 1951—a retired trade unionist, an academic, and a former independent M.P. Dubbed the three Marx brothers by the American photo-journalist Margaret Bourke-White, they listened to endless meetings and argued among themselves. Eventually they reported that the Bangwato did not want Tshekedi back but wanted Seretse instead. The bluff trade unionist proved most popular with the Bangwato, who found them 'a polite courteous, friendly folk, whose strongest weapon appears to be their tongue. They can talk an Englishman out of existence.'
Eventually two of the three Observers reported back, with the third one dissenting, that not only did the Bangwato not want Tshekedi back home but they were also demanding the return of Seretse as Kgosi.
Sacrificing one man—even a good man— for the welfare of one million
Once again the Labour government was faced with publishing an embarrassing report, showing as it did the strength of support for Seretse as well as opposition to Tshekedi. Attlee was disposed not to publish the Observers' report at all. In the event he allowed the question of publication to be overtaken by the fall of the Labour government in October 1951. The government was driven by an economic and defence crisis to fight, and this time to fail, in another general election. Meanwhile Gordon Walker was anxious not to lose sight of what became known in the C.R.O. as ' our main policy ', which was to keep South Africa friendly by 'continued exclusion of Seretse'.
The C.R.O., which liked to keep its political masters 'well below the salt' on the dining table , made good use of the political interregnum before the Conservatives took office. It was decided to make 'the ban on Seretse...permanent', so as to get a new Chief nominated by the Bangwato at Serowe. The briefing for the new Commonwealth Relations minister argued for continued 'appeasement'[ sic ] of South Africa on the grounds that 'the future happiness and well-being of 1,000,000 Africans' in the High Commission Territories was at stake.
The new minister turned out to be Lord Ismay , Churchill's wartime confidant who had been given the C.R.O. as a sinecure so that he could sit in cabinet close to his patron's ear.
Ismay prided himself on knowing his own mind and on ignoring the 'Civil Service element' in the C.R.O. But he proved to be pliable, as he plungedinto the C.R.O.'s planned 'comprehensive solution' of Bangwato affairs: Tshekedi In, Seretse Out, Rasebolai Chief . The solution to Tshekedi's personal unpopularity was to elevate his close ally former regimental sergeant-major Rasebolai Kgamane to bogosi . Ismay was also to become particularly fond of the C.R.O. metaphor of sacrificing one man—even a good man—for the welfare of one million.
Tshekedi seized the chance of influencing the new government, and flew over to see Ismay. C.R.O. officials were surprised to see the two men coming out of Ismay's office, arm-in-arm like the oldest of close friends. They had been talking long and hard, mostly about cattle and farming. Ismay insisted on calling him 'Farmer Tshekedi' as well as 'Chief Tshekedi', and he approved Tshekedi's immediate return to live in the Bangwato Reserve as a private citizen. (Rasebolai was already scouting for a residence for Tshekedi within the Reserve, at Pilikwe south of the Tswapong hills.)
Back in Serowe, the Bangwato led by Keaboka held a Kgotla meeting to protest at an editorial in The Times suggesting that Rasebolai would be soon made Chief, with Tshekedi behind him with effective control. When Tshekedi's impending return was officially announced, the Bangwato again protested. An editorial in the illiberal Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail snapped back: 'who, in any case are the Bamangwato to have wishes? Let them know their place.'
The second stage of the C.R.O. plan was Seretse's permanent exclusion. Though there were signs in C.R.O. thinking that 'permanent' might not mean 'for ever', the idea of permanence had to be got across to Seretse and the Bangwato—so that Rasebolai could be elected Chief by the Bangwato in his place.
The C.R.O. first warned Seretse, via his lawyer Rathcreedan, that his monthly allowance would be docked if he continued to make public statements calling himself 'Chief'. The C.R.O. was however split over whether to act on making Seretse's exclusion 'permanent' before or after a Bangwato delegation under Keaboka, being organized in the New Year of 1952, boarded ship for England.
What pushed the C.R.O. into action, in early 1952, was news of new political developments at Serowe. First, there was the emergence of a 'third party' among the Bangwato, opposed to the 'Keaboka crowd' as much as to Tshekedi. It consisted of young intellectuals such as Monametse Chiepe, Seretse's cousin Lenyeletse Seretse, M.P.K. Nwako , and brothers Gaolese Koma and Kenneth Koma —all strong supporters of Seretse as an individual but not necessarily of his becoming Kgosi.
Second, there was the quite extraordinary 'revolt' of three relatively junior colonial district officers at Serowe ( James Allison , Peter Cardross Grant , and Denis Atkins ), protesting at the duplicitous policies of H.M. government towards their Bangwato charges. (Churchill personally blamed it all on the liberalism of their previous supervisor, senior district commissioner 'Gerry' Germond.) The revolt was quickly hushed up; two of the three (Allison and Grant) being transferred to posts elsewhere in the B.P. But it sent a tremor of shock through colonial administration all the way up to the C.R.O., and strengthened the call for the smack of firm government and 'decisiveness' in British policy towards the Bangwato.
Third, the 'Keaboka crowd' had fallen under the influence of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland, who was pushing the idea that the simple solution to all problems was for Seretse to divorce Ruth. The C.R.O. knew that there was no question of Seretse divorcing Ruth; and that, given 'our main policy', he was unacceptable to South Africa even if he divorced Ruth. But the pressures from Keaboka et.al. on Seretse to divorce might push him in the alternative direction of of abdicating now—with a chance of a return home someday as a private citizen—rather than being banned and exiled for ever.
The Khama family had meanwhile moved out of their Regent's Park flat to a rented house in the outer suburban village of Chipstead, near Epsom in Surrey, on the south side of London. This was to be a temporary base while looking for a house to purchase.
Seretse had made an attempt to re-start law studies under the tutorship of the radical lawyer Dingle Foot , brother of the Labour M.P. Michael Foot. Dingle Foot had previously signed public letters of support for Seretse, but he was now embarrassed—as he regarded himself as in the camp of Tshekedi's supporters—and declined to take Seretse on.
Seretse was evidently tempted to surrender to what both friends and foes alike diagnosed as the streak of indolence in his character. He was settling down in a physically and psychologically much more comfortable environment. He now got on famously well with Ruth's father, who had previously disowned Ruth for the marriage. Both men were humorous and kindly men at heart.
Photos taken during the 1951-52 winter show Seretse and Ruth with old friends such as Charles Njonjo, or playing with Jacqueline on a boating pond on Blackheath Common near Ruth's parents place in Lewisham.
The new Conservative government makes Seretse's exile permanent
Lord Ismay invited Seretse and Ruth Khama for cocktails at his London home on March 13th, 1952. Ruth was tense and defensive at first, but settled down to charm Lord and Lady Ismay. The amiable Ismay concluded he could do business with Seretse. He then arranged to see Seretse and Ruth again on Monday March 24th in the offices of the C.R.O. Ismay would have with him Lord Salisbury, the ultra right-wing peer who was waiting in the wings to take over from Ismay as minister for Commonwealth Relations.
Ismay began the formal interview at the C.R.O. by remarking that the Bangwato had taken up more of his time as minister than any other issue. He then talked of the need for a new Chief, and regretted Seretse could never go back as Chief. At this point, according to Ismay, 'Mrs. Khama showed signs of distress'. But the meeting thereafter seemed less strained, with the cards face up on the table. In reference to the marriage, Ismay said he 'would very likely have done the same thing myself'. But Seretse had not made amends by studying hard since then. He had undoubted talents but needed a fresh start, and was therefore being offered a job in the British colonial service on the Caribbean island of Jamaica .
Ismay ended his peroration by giving Seretse the option of abdicating his rights to Chieftainship, or of compelling 'us' to exclude him by law. Ismay denied he was 'holding a pistol at their heads', and told Seretse and Ruth to go away and think about their answer until Wednesday.
Seretse asked two quick questions of clarification, and promised to keep the negotiations secret until Wednesday. That meant, he 'mentioned with a smile that he would not consult any Members of Parliament.' Lord Salisbury, who had by silently, added a final word and the meeting was over. Ismay then drafted a minute of the meeting: 'Neither of them by look or deed gave any clue as to what their decision was likely to be. Seretse would make a good poker player; so would his wife '.
Rathcreedan, Seretse's ancient London lawyer, telephoned Clark at the C.R.O. the next day. Clark had difficulty in unscrambling the old man's rambling discourse. He understood that the Khamas were 'undoubtedly attracted by the Jamaica offer', but Seretse could not be seen 'running away to a cushy job'—nor could be betray his people's trust. The Bangwato were now unanimously in favour of his return as Chief. It was now too late to abdicate as he might have done two years earlier. Seretse knew that Keaboka and six headmen were on their way to London to petition for his return as Chief—but he had no intelligence, like the C.R.O. had, that they would also try to get him to divorce Ruth.
Lord Salisbury, as the new minister, took the chair at 3 pm on Wednesday March 16th, though Ismay was also present. Salisbury was a great physical contrast to the large and cuddly Ismay, being a slighter almost wolverine figure, with piercing eyes, pencil moustache and snapping voice.
Seretse began this interview with a long set speech replying to Ismay's points on the Monday one by one. His people had forgiven him and all now wanted him to be Chief; the British government should therefore await the imminent arrival of the Bangwato delegates in London. Ismay chipped in with how Edward VIII had abdicated out of duty to his country. Seretse replied that Edward had been following the advice of the constitutional representatives of his people, not ignoring them. Seretse concluded by stating that all the events of the previous three or four years concerning him and his wife could only be explained by 'intervention by the Union of South Africa'.
Salisbury then spoke, appealing to Seretse to forget the past in Bechuanaland, and concentrate instead on the future—in Jamaica. Seretse retorted that 'that there were many Jamaicans who would welcome the Jamaican post'.
Ismay appeared to go along with Seretse's explanation of past events, saying that one only had to look at the map of southern Africa to see the 'wider considerations' of the case. Seretse then observed that if Britain gave way to the Union of South Africa, on a matter like this, there would be no end to appeasement. White South Africans would be encouraged in their repressive policies, and race relations would deteriorate even more quickly.
Seeing that Salisbury was so unbending, Seretse reverted back to his previous position summed up in the August 1950 Aide-Memoire between himself and Tshekedi. As he had frequently indicated before, he was prepared to renounce his claim to the chieftainship, but he must insist on retaining full liberty to take part in the political life of his tribe. Salisbury snapped back that that was 'impracticable', and that Seretse was giving him 'no alternative except to make his exclusion from the chieftainship permanent and final'.
At this point Ismay intervened that he had never been made aware of Seretse's readiness to renounce chieftainship for common citizenship. At Ismay's suggestion, the meeting then broke for fifteen minutes for the C.R.O. side to consult with one another.
When the meeting resumed, Salisbury made the terse announcement that 'renunciation but retention of full political liberty was unacceptable'. He regretted that 'Mr. Khama had not seen his way to accept the proposals put before him', and he must now say the decision to bar Seretse and his children from the Chieftainship was now permanent.
Salisbury drafted a minute to Churchill calling Seretse 'bitter and obdurate'—though the phrase was omitted when it was typed. The announcement of Seretse's permanent exclusion from Chieftainship was then given to eighteen journalists, including the son of a former B.P. resident commissioner (Goold-Adams of The Economist ), at a press briefing at 5 pm.
Seretse and Ruth returned home to Chipstead. Ruth Khama later recalled:
Seretse, I remember, was most upset at the Tory Government's decision. He came home and buried his face in his hands and said; "To think that I can never go home again. Never, ever."
* * *
The history of the Bangwato, and of Bechuanaland in general, was changed irrevocably by the exclusion of both Seretse Khama and Tshekedi Khama. Colonial chieftainship or bogosi itself was discredited by the attempts of the British to revive it in a form excluding the rightful heirs. The emergence of a 'third party' of nationalist intellectuals, with pan-Africanist and liberal democratic ideas, spelled the doom of bogosi in Botswana. The refusal of the British to come clean about deference to ruling white interests in South Africa and the Rhodesias so exasperated the Bangwato, that they turned to the very disruption which had been used as the pretext for excluding Seretse from power.
In British politics, both Seretse and Tshekedi had found themselves crushed between the Scylla of the Labour party and the Charybdis of the Conservatives. The very names 'Seretse' and 'Tshekedi' came to represent matters of honour and public morality, and their betrayal by the two major political parties. As late as 1963-64 backbenchers of either party were shouting 'Seretse' and 'Tshekedi' at each other in the Westminster parliament, when one party was accused by the other of a breach of trust.
Seretse, Ruth, and Seretse's sister Naledi arrive off the BOAC
flying-boat at Southampton, 1950. Baby Jacqueline being carried by
airline official in a carry cot.
Photograph courtesy of Botswana Information Services.
Chapter: EXILE, 1952-56
The Conservative government's decision that 'their predecessor's refusal to recognise Seretse must be confirmed and made permanent and final' was announced in the Lords and Commons on 27 March 1952. British press comment was at first divided. The Times thought the British government's decision on Seretse 'definite', but added that the problem of the 'Bamangwato' still continued 'with all its echoes in wider Africa'.
The liberal Manchester Guardian said the decision would shock all liberals in Britain and give offence to millions in Africa. The Birmingham Post agreed that, 'for the sake of peace and quiet in Bechuanaland (which it may not bring about) the Government has stirred up immense resentment in many parts of the Commonwealth, and gone some way to undermine the partnership between black and white on which the Commonwealth's cohesion depends.' The Scotsman , the Liverpool Post and the News Chronicle concluded that the Conservatives were no better than Labour in treating Seretse so badly. The Conservative Daily Telegraph and Daily Graphic newspapers congratulated the Conservative government on its wisdom and courage.
It was only the ultra-Tory Daily Express which caught the growing popular mood among the British public, regardless of political affiliation: it attacked Salisbury's decision as 'a bad deed which should arouse shame and anger throughout the country.' Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian press baron who owned Express newspapers, took up the cause of Seretse and Ruth, as an echo of the cause of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson which he had supported sixteen years earlier.
Public opinion outraged
A flood of letters from the British public and British subjects overseas began to pour into Lord Salisbury's office. Of the 140 odd preserved in C.R.O. files, a mere dozen were hostile or indifferent to Seretse. The sentiments of Seretse's supporters are reflected in the following statements:
— British sense of fair play has been outraged
— The Tories were not elected to continue the bad policies of the stupid Socialists
— Freedom! My foot, where is it? You're another Mussolini and not fit for your job!
— To Hell with Dr. Malan!
— I am afraid our 'bossing' days are over, and we must wake up
— The bilge you people put out about the Commonwealth being a family of nations
— No wonder we are hated by most of the world; pleasing a crowd of semi-Nazi Dutchmen is not only foolish but suicidal
— I have always previously voted Conservative, but my faith is broken.
Reports were received that substantial numbers of people were resigning from the Conservative Party over the issue in more than one constituency.
A number of critics pointed to the 'violation of justice and human rights'. They were referring to Article 13 of the 1950 Universal Declaration of Human Rights —the right of freedom of movement within one's own country, and to be able to leave or return to it. However the United Kingdom, while subscribing to the Declaration had crossed its fingers and toes with an exclusion clause for its colonies and protectorates. (The C.R.O. was happier with the more dilute European Convention on Human Rights currently being negotiated in 1952-53.)
One of the dozen letters hostile or indifferent to Seretse was from a black African objecting to racially mixed marriages: the C.R.O. minute on the side reads—'an African who approves HMG's policy in Bechuanaland!' Two others said: 'We don't want an African St. Seretse'; and 'handle this man firmly!' Some of the dozen appeared to be from white South Africans, but none approached this one in eccentricity:
May the good God Bless Dr.Malan & all his Cabinet. He, like Hitler is trying to cleanse God's beautiful world, while the filthy British are doing everything they can to foul God's beauty...the devil will rule, & Britain will be brought to nought in one Hour. Lord Salisbury & Viscount Stansgate should come out here & see the Cursed Niggers En Mass .
[signed] A. Gleason (Miss)
Many of the letters were from organisations in Britain and abroad. Foreign organisations writing in support of Seretse included the African National Congress of South Africa—despite both its president and treasurer, James Moroka and S.M. Molema , being in-laws and close friends of Tshekedi. Others, many of them forwarded by the Seretse Khama Fighting Committee, included: the Kingston & St. Andrew's Taxpayers of Jamaica, the Connolly Association of Irish in London, the Coloured Republican Assembly of Trinidad, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, the Kenya African Union , and the South African Indian Congress .
It was two letters sent to Churchill and his deputy Anthony Eden which received the most attention. A 24 year-old American ex-army veteran being trained as a teacher at the University of Cincinnati addressed his plea to Churchill:
I ask you sincerely, how can I defend this action of the "Mother of Democrasy", when asked by my eager and interested young students to explain it? ...England has betrayed in part my respect for her as a nation...do not minimize or shrug off the importance of the "Seretse affair"...it threatens the very groundwork and fundamental theories...from which the United States also derived its democratic principles.
Eden meanwhile was approached by the upper class opera, ballet and theatrical designer Oliver Messel, who was 'wildly distressed' at the 'injustice' shown Seretse Khama. Describing himself as 'a staunch Conservative supporter', he criticized 'weakly pandering to the policy of South African colour discrimination'.
Among British organizations, the body that had to be given most credence was the British Council of Churches, which raised the issue of Seretse Khama at length in a Belfast meeting. A delegation led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher , in person, eventually arrived at the C.R.O. on May 9th. Salisbury was put to pains to answer five detailed points, each one being turned to justify the government's action. The delegates were told that the 'tribe' threatened to 'collapse' if Seretse returned; and that Seretse 'might in time be allowed back, first for visits' but was unlikely to ever settle back there because of 'his European tastes'.
The delegation of six Bangwato leaders led by Keaboka Kgamane arrived at London's Heathrow airport on April 9th, and were kept waiting for two weeks for an interview with Lord Salisbury. It was also noticeable that, though they visited Seretse down at Chipstead soon enough, Seretse kept little contact with them thereafter. What neither the press, nor the Bangwato at home, realised was that they deeply affronted Seretse by calling for his divorce.
The original purpose of the delegation, to bring back Seretse as Chief, was a dead issue as far as the British government was concerned—though other Chiefs in Bechuanaland were beginning to feel it would be better to get Seretse back for internal peace and 'risk a real upset with the Union'.
The Seretse Khama Campaign Committee (former Seretse Khama Fighting Committee) set about campaigning on Seretse's behalf. But Seretse himself held back from public involvement to give the Bangwato delegates a chance to make their case. It was not until April 15th that he appeared at a protest rally, in London's Caxton Hall.
The meeting was held by a recently formed group known as Racial Unity , which included Clement Attlee's sister among its leaders. Seretse requested that the meeting concentrate on Bechuanaland's future rather than himself, but he agreed to speak. The meeting was chaired by the president of the Women's Liberal Federation, and Seretse was preceded by his Gold Coast (Ghana) friend Joe Appiah —who was himself to win fame by marrying an English woman, the daughter of the prominent former Labour minister Stafford Cripps , in 1953.
With the six Bangwato sitting behind Seretse, obliged to remain silent until they had seen Salisbury, Seretse spoke off the cuff, at firsthaltingly and somewhat subdued, but never losing his ironic humour, to the mainly white female audience:
I am not bitter, but I am frustrated, because I am compelled to live here and do absolutely nothing...I have not yet been able to find out what I have done wrong. I have been told that my marriage is contrary to native custom, but I can prove that it is not.
I find it difficult, with all my Oxford training, to understand the people I have been dealing with— even though some of them have been to Oxford. Perhaps they were at a different college.
We still in Bechuanaland regard ourselves as British and we still have a great deal of confidence in British justice, fair play and decency. Don't de stroy it by allowing your Government to carry out this unjust decision without a protest from you.
After the six Bangwato, whom the C.R.O. dismissed as mere 'country hayseeds', had seen Lord Salisbury and received no satisfaction, Seretse were freer to speak.
On May 2nd, 1952, the Seretse Khama Campaign Committee arranged a meeting in a London hall, at which both Seretse and an elderly Mongwato delegate, Mongwaketse Mathangwane , spoke. Seretse also attended one of the committee meetings of the Campaign Committee, possibly that of May 7th in the campaign's headquarters at 45 Brondesbury Villas, West London.
On May 10th Seretse attended a prestigous meeting in the Anti-Slavery Society's Denison House. Mathangwane and the others threatened to renew their boycott of colonial administration back home. Fenner Brockway, the left-wing Labour M.P. and campaigner against colonialism, described Seretse's banishment as an intolerable crime against humanity, an outrage against democracy, and a blow to the development of Bechuanaland. By refusing to accept Seretse and his marriage, Britain had missed the chance to show South Africa an alternative future of racial equality. Canon John Collins , the campaigning cleric otherwise associated with Tshekedi, attacked South Africa's 'master race' threat to world peace.
An account in the Manchester Guardian continues:
Seretse, when he came to speak himself, was dryly ironic in his comments on the attitude of both the Labour and Conservative parties. From his experience it seemed that the colonial peoples were being used only as play-things—or, rather, as sticks with which to beat political opponents. The Socialists could use him to knock the Conservatives and vice-versa. His speech was nicely detached...but there was something like bitterness in the beginning of his speech last night, when he said that "these 'black and ignorant' men [referring to the Bangwato delegates] know their own people better than the noble person sitting in Whitehall, who would probably [have] never met a black man until he met Seretse Khama".
On the next night Seretse Khama went to a meeting in Birmingham Town Hall, attended by two thousand people, which the Birmingham Post ignorantly referred to as 'the biggest audience of his life'. The meeting was organised by the Midlands branch of the United Nations Association—chaired by Daniel Lipson , the former M.P. who had been one of the British government's Observers sent to Bechuanaland in 1951. Also on the platform together with Seretse sat Ruth Khama and three Bangwato delegates.
Seretse told the crowd that he and the Bangwato had lost faith in the British government because they had been treated so contemptuously. He obliquely contrasted this with Britain's craven dependence on South Africa: 'we are coloured and and our country is very small and cannot make a military contribution to the Western world'.
Turning upside-down Ismay's conceit about sacrificing one for a million, Seretse 'asked whether the British government was prepared to sacrifice the friendship of 60,000,000 Africans for the doubtful friendship of Dr. Malan.' As for himself,
I have been here two or three years now and during that time I have been a very good boy. But where has it got me? If it is true, as it has been said, that I am not fit to rule, that I am irresponsible, how can I hope to serve ably and properly the Jamaican people? If I am fit to be the assistant [to the] governor of Jamaica, I think I am more fit to be the ruler of my own people.
There was also wide publicity given in the next day's newspapers to a sermon given in St Paul's Cathedral, on the invitation of Canon Collins, for his new movement called Christian Action. Rev. Dr Marcus James from Jamaica compared Malan ('the world's high priest of racial hate') with Hitler, and called on Christians to crusade against' racial idolatory' rather than against communism.
The British government was made aware of increasing public sentiment in Britain against racialism at home and colonialism overseas. One can argue that, at least in England, the issue of Seretse Khama was the way in which the public first, though albeit indirectly, got to grips with the issue of apartheid in South Africa.
In Scotland the main issue, fuelled by the Scottish churches with missions in Nyasaland (Malawi), was the impending Central African Federation , which was to be dominated by the white settlers of Southern Rhodesia. The issue of Federation was seen as overlapping with that of Seretse Khama; as it did also for the Nyasa physician Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, practising in Brondesbury, who gave his support to the Seretse Khama Campaign Committee.
Both Seretse and the Federation were also issues being addressed by the Colonial Bureau of the Fabian Society and the new Africa Bureau , political pressure-groups and information services in London, run by the sort of British intellectuals with an interest in Africa who had supported Tshekedi Khama since the 1930s.
The British cabinet discussed Seretse's speaking in public, and decided not to withdraw his allowance, for breaking its terms of required political silence, for fear of being 'accused of muzzling free speech and persecuting Seretse'. But no doubt such hints were somehow communicated to Seretse, who quietened down again. He remained remarkably silent during and after dramatic events back home in June. By July the Seretse Khama Campaign Committee was acknowledging that he had only attended one of their committee meetings.
The Campaign Committee frightened the C.R.O. because of its communist connections. Its secretary was Billy Strachan , in later years referred to as a 'veteran C.P. hack' by the satirical magazine Private Eye ; and the Communist Party newspaper, the Daily Worker , gave the committee plentiful publicity. A C.R.O. minute in May observed that 'Seretse is not the instigator, but is a pawn in the hands of the "woolly-woollies"', and raised the possibility of 'any action which the C.R.O. could properly take to damp down agitation in the U.K. in favour of Seretse.
One may therefore speculate about the role of British government agencies in setting up an alternative to the Seretse Khama Campaign Committee, which was to appear in July 1952. Percy Sillitoe , ex-Northern Rhodesia policeman now head of MI5, had been alerted to possible communist connections with Seretse by Tshekedi's lawyer Buchanan when he had visited Cape Town two years earlier.
The Serowe Kgotla riot & its consequences
On Wednesday May 21st, 1952, the Bangwato delegates under Keaboka arrived back from England at Serowe, empty-handed. On Friday May 23rd the British government issued an Order-in-Council barring both Seretse Khama and Tshekedi Khama, together with their children, from ever succeeding to the chieftainship of the Bangwato.
On Sunday June 1st, the Serowe Kgotla broke into a bloody riot of people against vehicles and stones against tear-gas. Three police constables were stoned to death—all three had just been brought in to join the colonial emergency forces from the neighbouring British colony of Basutoland. Keaboka and others were arrested and subsequently imprisoned.
The Bangwato rioted when deprived of Seretse, giving the lie to the official idea that his return would lead to unrest. But the colonial authorities tried to make the best of the situation, now that the 'Keaboka crowd' was in jail, to get a new Kgosi elected in Kgotla. Their choice was Rasebolai. Rasebolai was third in line of royal succession after Tshekedi, and was a competent administrator who had long been Tshekedi's chief lieutenant.
In order to consolidate pro-Tshekedi headmen behind Rasebolai, Tshekedi was allowed back in the Bangwato reserve indefinitely from August 1952—as a private citizen.
After its crescendo of violence, the Bangwato reserve began to settle down to a prolongued state of sullen unrest. Emergency forces and confrontational officials were withdrawn, and replaced by a new regime under a senior district officer based at Francistown and responsible for the whole northern protectorate. A star colonial official named John Millard , with previous experience of setting up local councils in Tanganyika and a former colonial recruitment expert in London, was brought in from the Colonial Office to head up this new structure.
The new resident commissioner Forbes Mackenzie, though one of the old confrontational school, succeeded in at least turning C.R.O. attention to the appalling state of economic as well as administrative neglect under which the Protectorate was suffering.
Small wonder it was that an article on Bechuanaland appearing in a religious journal in October 1952 was entitled 'Bechuanaland: a country without a future'. The writer, as a liberal white woman, found the country so different in spirit from South Africa, where she had spent half her life, that she could only see a meaningful future for Bechuanaland in Central Africa.
Rhodesian politician Roy Welensky had also seen Bechuanaland's future as lying with the new dominion of Central Africa, in a debate of the Northern Rhodesia legislative council of July 1952. Though almost in the same breath as he invited the Africans of Bechuanaland to join, he ominously warned Africans within Northern Rhodesia that if they did not join the federation they would 'disappear' like the Red Indians of America.
The threat of Bechuanaland going to Central Africa stimulated the Union of South Africa to renew its bid for all three High Commission Territories. Churchill had reiterated British policy on transfer of the territories to the Union, in reply to a parliamentary question by Tom Driberg, in November 1951: there would be no transfer 'until their inhabitants had been consulted and until the United Kingdom Parliament had been given an opportunity of expressing its views.' The British and South African governments then agreed to publish their own versions of all their official correspondence on the territories since 1909.
Then, at the last moment in November 1952, at the request of D.D. Forsyth in South Africa, the British agreed not to publish any correspondence with Southern Rhodesia, or with South Africa after 1939—the date from which Malan wanted to pick up the South African position. (When Anthony Sillery, the former resident commissioner, proposed to do a scholarly study of the High Commission Territories 'question', for an Oxford doctorate, the C.R.O. stamped on it and proposed that he study late nineteenth century B.P. administration instead.)
* * *
Meanwhile Seretse's supporters in Britain began to reorganise their support for him together with the issue of the High Commission Territories.
Michael Scott at the Africa Bureau wrote to Tshekedi in July 1952 that he was being invited to join a Council for the Defence of Seretse Khama and the Protectorates , including all parties except communists. Scott complained about the confusion of committees supporting Seretse, not only the old Campaign Committee and its new Bamangwato People's Defence Fund offshoot, but also Canon Collins's Racial Unity and his new body called Christian Action —all of which compromised Seretse's case by associating him with Keaboka and the murderous rioters.
Seretse stuck to his pledge not to make press comments on events back home. He must have found it galling that Walter Pela , the same man whose sadism had set off the strike at Tiger Kloof college in 1939, when Seretse was a student there, had now emerged in London as the champion and self-appointed spokesman of the Bangwato. Pela put about the entirely baseless story that Seretse was going to organise resistance to British rule from a base in Swaziland.
A more authentic voice of the Bangwato was the Bamangwato National Congress , modelled on the political movements of neighbouring countries, which emerged at Serowe in June. It brought together the 'third party' of young intelligentsia supporting Seretse, and who opposed both Keaboka and Tshekedi. It included such later prominent names as K.T. Motsete , M.P.K. Nwako and the Koma brothers, under the leadership of L.D. Raditladi . The B.N.C. made its mark in the latter half of 1952 by advocating the chieftaincy of Oratile Ratshosa , Seretse's half-sister as Regent for Seretse. (Britain also now had a queen, Elizabeth II, nominated on the death of her father in February 1952, left awaiting coronation for another fifteen months.)
But, like other bodies founded before and afterwards by Raditladi, the B.N.C. had little internal coherence or persistence and failed to garner mass support.
The Council for the Defence of Seretse Khama and the Protectorates held its first formal meeting after the re-assembly of parliament in September 1952. Most of its members were parliamentarians. Its chairman was the anti-imperialist Labour M.P. Fenner Brockway. Its vice-chairman was the Liberal M.P. Jo Grimond , while its most prominent Conservative supporters were Lords Hailsham (Quintin Hogg) and Boyd Orr . Three Labour M.P.'s were particularly keen advocates of Seretse and Ruth—Reggie Sorenson, Jenny Lee , and Anthony Wedgwood-Benn (Tony Benn). Learie Constantine was recruited from the old Campaign Committee, together with the West Indian sprinter Macdonald Bailey, and Seretse's friends Joe Appiah and Charles Njonjo.
Other supporters included Kingsley Martin and Bertrand Russell , Lady Megan Lloyd George , the painter Augustus John , the playwright Christopher Fry and the novelist Compton Mackenzie , the actors Alec Guinness and Michael Redgrave and the more notably 'political' Sybil Thorndike .
Seretse and Ruth were photographed with the main members of the council in the Palace of Westminster. But, to the satisfaction of the C.R.O., 'there is nothing to show yet that he is actively connected with the new council', and the council seems to have been little more than a parliamentary lobby group in 1952-53. Seretse did not in fact keep entirely quiet: he addressed meetings such as his local (Redhill) branch of the United Nations Association, but took care not to arouse controversy.
The issue of Seretse Khama seems to have run out of steam as far as the British press was concerned by the end of September 1952.
The threat of Oratile being nominated by the Bangwato for Chief was headed off by a concerted campaign of innuendo by the colonial authorities, regarding her unsuitability to rule as a woman, as the widow of a Ratshosa, and as an obvious stop-gap for Seretse.
Imposition of Rasebolai as 'Native Authority'
The new Conservative minister Viscount Swinton (Philip Cunliffe-Lister), appointed to replace the Marquess of Salisbury in December 1952, took on himself the task of getting Rasebolai nominated as Kgosi of the Bangwato.
Swinton received a request from Brockway to receive a delegation on his first day in office. He delayed the delegation for two months, and then received it after mugging up C.R.O. briefing notes on 'these unfortunate people, torn and distraught for nearly three years by the irresponsible action of a youth and a tragic controversy within their ruling house.'
It is significant that the Council for the Defence of Seretse Khama now stressed return of Seretse 'at an early date as private individual' as an alternative to his return as Chief. No doubt this was at Seretse's instigation. But Swinton said the government's decision was final and unchangeable.
On February 27th, 1953, the Khamas had a son—christened Seretse after his father, Ian as a name from the Williams family, and Khama after his grandfather at the specific request of Bangwato elders cabling from Serowe. (Hence his somewhat repetitive sounding name, Seretse Khama Ian Khama , the second 'Khama' being the surname.) The birth of a male heir reinforced support for Seretse in Serowe, just at the time when the British had hopes of persuading the Bangwato to accept the childless Rasebolai as their Kgosi.
In March 1953 Fenner Brockway held a press conference to publicize a nation-wide petition in Britain for Seretse's return home as Chief, which had started to collect signatures in the previous September. Seretse spoke briefly to the press in a committee room of the House of Commons. He explained the hereditary nature of Bangwato chieftainship, and added: 'so long as it is the desire of the tribe that I should be chief—and information from Bechuanaland indicates that this is so - I am ready to serve them to the best of my capacity.'
The petition however was not notably successful, collecting less than eleven thousand signatures over the next year. The Council for the Defence of Seretse Khama and the Protectorates published a pamphlet, but Seretse's case seems to have faded as a public issue. Support of Seretse, led by Fenner Brockway, continued as an issue of Labour back-bench M.P.'s, as much against their own front-benchers as against the government.
The colonial authorities hoped that the Bangwato would catch some of the June 1953 coronation fever gripping Britain. But the Bangwato again refused to nominate Rasebolai, or any one else than Seretse, as Kgosi in a Kgotla meeting of May 7th. The British government therefore decided to appoint Rasebolai as 'Native Authority', to give him all the legal powers of a Chief under colonial rule without his assuming the leopard skin of bogosi from his people. The announcement was made by Swinton, over the protests of Stansgate and Hailsham and others, in the House of Lords on May 13th.
On May 22nd the House of Commons debated the issue on a motion initiated by the Labour M.P. Irene White. It was a characteristic Commons performance of the type which gave both encouragement and frustration to Seretse, who often sat in the visitors' gallery. By this time, in May 1953, there was remarkable silence about Bangwato affairs on the Tory back-benches. It was left to Labour back-benchers to make their mark on the debate.
The maverick libertarian Richard Acland began by warning the whites of Africa that they were doomed to disaster by all the rules of Christ, Freud and Marx. The diarist Nigel Nicholson stood up to note that the Commons had expended twenty hours and 450 columns of the Hansard record of debates on Bechuanaland.
Jennie Lee pointed out that the Labour front-bench had absented themselves from the debate in shame. Michael Foot underlined the immorality of both Labourites and Conservatives towards Seretse and Tshekedi. Fenner Brockway sopke of his vision of a 'future race..from the intermingling of peoples and colours', and the historical importance of the Bangwato acceptance of the marriage. Jennie Lee added that human beings held values and principles above mere material interests, and would always fight injustice.
By June 1953 the public campaign on behalf of Seretse Khama in Britain had therefore quietened, though the parliamentary campaign was to continue and the issue of the High Commission Territories was by no means a dead issue. Overseas public attention on Africa had turned to plans for the new Central African Federation, the beginnings of the Mau Mau emergency in Kenya, and the first black government in British Africa on the Gold Coast (Ghana) under Kwame Nkrumah.
In retrospect, we can see the Seretse Khama campaign as a step towards other important campaigns for the attention of the British public—Canon Collins's Christian Action, Fenner Brockway's Movement for Colonial Freedom , and, ultimately, the Anti-Apartheid Movement . But events within South Africa, notably the Defiance Campaign against unjust laws by the African National Congress of South Africa, received remarkably little attention from the international press at this time.
Tshekedi resumes regional political activism
Having pushed the British to revert to the favourable position of 1939 for South Africa in relation to the High Commission Territories, Prime Minister Malan of South Africa attempted to spread South African influence further afield.
In January 1953 he proposed that the colonial powers adopt an 'African Charter' to bolster white settlement and preserve 'indigenous peoples' from outside contacts. In effect, Malan was advocating a form of apartheid within the continent, to divert Africa as much from the dangerous 'multi-racial' promise of Central Africa as from the path of black rule being pioneered in West Africa.
The 'multi-racial' ideal of rule by white and black citizens was being put forward in Rhodesia by the white liberals of the Capricorn Africa Society . The society adopted the zebra as its emblem, and attempted to recruit Tshekedi Khama as its prize catch. Tshekedi, however, clearly and correctly saw that the proposed restrictions on Africans becoming full citizens would alienate 'thinking black people'.
Far more alarming for Malan ultimately was the spirit of Pan-Africanism being engendered among blacks by the example of the Gold Coast. A copy of a memorandum on 'Africanism and South Africa' by Canada's High Commissioner in Pretoria reached the C.R.O. at the end of 1952, warning of 'buoyant and belligerent African nationalism or racism'. By mid-1954 there was the reported threat of Nkrumah 's Convention People's Party setting up a branch in South Africa or Basutoland; the Union government was said to fear 'the Gold Coast virus' as 'at least as great a menace as Communism'
In Bechuanaland, Tshekedi stepped up his agitation for the country to have its own legislative council, equivalent to those in other British African colonies. Tshekedi was a member of the Joint Advisory Council , drawn equally from the African and European Advisory Councils of the B.P., which he wished to see upgraded with a function in debating and passing legislation. Such claims for constitutional development were flatly ignored by the British, because they stimulated a renewed bid by South Africa for the High Commission Territories. Malan was particularly concerned with Huggins's claim to Bechuanaland for Rhodesia.
Both Tshekedi and Seretse had reason to welcome Churchill's statement in the House of Commons on April 13th, 1954, warning off 'Dr. Malan and his Government' from 'needlessly' bidding for transfer of the High Commission Territories. This has generally come to be seen by constitutional historians as the key moment when South Africa's bid to get Britain to hand over Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland finally failed.
By 1955, in a pamphlet published by the Africa Bureau in London, Tshekedi was pressing the British government to decide between Bechuanaland's future either as a separate state like Nigeria and Uganda, or as 'an African Territory within a neighbouring state'. The preferred alternative of leading members of the Joint Advisory Council, at least up to the end of 1955 and possibly as late as 1960, seems to have been for Bechuanaland to eventually join the Central African Federation.
Though no longer personally antagonistic to each other, Seretse and Tshekedi remained spiritually distant. Seretse, never a conscientious letter-writer to anyone but his wife, certainly never wrote to Tshekedi.
There is only one bit of evidence of communication between the two men during this period in Tshekedi's copious archives. It was an impish remark by Seretse passed on through Canon Collins. Collins had told Seretse that he might meet Tshekedi in Johannesburg. Seretse asked Collins to pass on his greetings—and to ask if Tshekedi was looking after Seretse's cattle as well as he was looking after his own.
This aroused Tshekedi's ire, because he had handed over all care of Seretse's cattle to Peto Sekgoma—Seretse's agent and Tshekedi's bitterest enemy. Peto was in fact selling off large numbers of Seretse's cattle at this time—92 head between June and August 1954, presumably both for Seretse's income and to pay off lawyers' fees, as well as his own cut. There was an ongoing dispute with Tshekedi over livestock herded by the Makame brothers, Seretse's retainers, at Gogwane (Nata), on grazing land that had been allotted to Tshekedi.
This resulted in Seretse approaching the C.R.O. for legal business meetings in May and December 1954. Legal action petered on into 1955. The colonial administration blamed it all on Peto Sekgoma's deliberate baiting of them and Tshekedi.
No end to exile in sight
Seretse and Ruth and their two children moved into a house of their own at Addiscombe , on the eastern side of Croydon in Surrey, in late 1953. Their house, the five-bedroomed 'Aldwick' in Mapledale Avenue, was one of a number of redbrick small mansions built in mock Jacobean style on a 1936 American-style suburban estate, close to open parkland and the exclusive Whitgift private ('public') school.
The Khamas settled in to local social life, with its sports facilities and saloon bars. Jacqueline attended a local nursery school, and eventually went to primary school. Seretse played cricket and tennis, wore a tweed jacket, smoked endless cigarettes and conversed amiably and animatedly over pints of beer. The C.R.O. heard with concern about bouts of depressed drinking, but he remained physically fit and infectiously humorous. Slow to anger, he shrugged off periodic silly rumours of impending divorce as wishful thinking in Southern Africa or London.
Ruth Khama later recalled his antics in passing off a rubber-nibbed pen, acquired from a joke shop, on other people including his father-in-law. Their suburban neighbours were in general very friendly, despite the fact that the house also had a stream of visitors from further afield—including West Indians, Africans, Indians, Arabs and Americans.
Seretse was not, though, a proficient handyman-householder. When the pipes burst one winter, he confidently went into the the loft to fix them. The next thing Ruth heard was a crash, as two legs burst through the bathroom ceiling and dangled above her.
In December 1953, Seretse was joined in British exile by a second highly educated king from Africa, the young Kabaka Mutesa II alias 'Freddie'. The Kabaka had been exiled from his kingdom of Buganda, part of the British colony of Uganda, for standing on his dignity as an independent ruler rather than accepting colonial dictates as a loyal subject. A somewhat more extravagant and colourful character than Seretse, playing up his background of Eton and the Guards, 'Freddie' and his wife nonetheless became firm friends with Seretse and Ruth. Their stories became so intertwined in the minds of newspaper readers that Seretse and 'Freddie' are often still confused in the public memory of Britain.
Among other friends at this time perhaps the most notable were Tony and Caroline Benn , who had recently bought a house in Holland Park Avenue, on the north side of Campden Hill where Seretse and Ruth had briefly lived at the time of their marriage in 1948. Tony Benn felt a strong emotional kinship with Seretse, as he explained to the Commons in August 1956, because 'he wants to be a chief and I do not want to be a chief'. Tony Benn wanted the right not to succeed his father as Lord Stansgate in the Lords, but to remain plain Mr Benn in the Commons. Benn had had a taste of the colonies and of the Kalahari beneath him as a trainee R.A.F. pilot based at Bulawayo in 1944-45. He became treasurer for Brockway's Movement for Colonial Freedom, launched in March 1954.
His wife Caroline, as an American married to a Briton, got on well with Ruth. They also both smoked cigarettes in long cigarette-holders that matched the colour of their clothes. At 4 a.m. one morning, after a long night's discussion, they concluded that neither of them really enjoyed smoking and it was just a social affectation. They made the mutual pledge never to smoke again without the other's permission. They both still keep to that pledge.
Seretse and Ruth were assisted by a Spanish au pair nanny, Yvonne Hampas , who enabled them to sometimes escape the constraints of two small children in the house on adult mobility. But they also took Jackie and Ian around with them by car, or by train into the centre of London.
Lady Longford ( Elizabeth Packenham ), herself a member of the Africa Bureau executive, recalls lunching with the Khamas and their children in their Chelsea house. The Longfords learnt that Ruth had been billeted near their Sussex country home and had attended classes in it at the beginning of the Second World War.
In December 1954 Seretse's annual allowance from the C.R.O. was increased from £1100 to £1375 per annum, subject to tax. The C.R.O. discovered that Seretse had not registered for tax; he pointed out that he was still technically a student, though no doubt it was also a political gesture of passive civil disobedience. His law studies became more and more sporadic. He had vague plans of entering a law partnership as a barrister in Africa, possibly in Nigeria, but did not pursue them. As late as September 1956 he was still talking of talking of the possibility of taking bar exams that December.
* * *
People at Serowe never gave up hope of Seretse's eventual return, and continued to send him letters of support, while Native Authority Rasebolai and the colonial authorities never ceased to be frustrated by periodic rumours of Seretse's return.
Keaboka, Peto Sekgoma and nine other Bangwato leaders convicted of public violence after the Kgotla riot of June 1952 were released from prison in September 1954. A quaintly worded petition to Queen Elizabeth was forwarded in that month from Bangwato elders begging for Seretse's return. Fears of renewed agitation and violence were nipped in the bud by Rasebolai, arresting and fining seventeen Bangwato who convened an illegal public meeting to meet two Johannesburg lawyers. But rumours of Seretse's impending return grew more insistent.
Fenner Brockway raised the issue of Seretse Khama, as a 'gross denial of human rights', at the annual conference of the Labour Party in September 1954, as the five year mark of Seretse's exile approached—the original period decreed for its review by the Labour government back in March 1950. The platform of the conference replied that it would investigate and report back.
The Labour Party therefore sent its Commonwealth and Imperial liaison officer, the journalist John Hatch , to the C.R.O. at the beginning of November. He told Baxter of the C.R.O. about his party's 'very guilty conscience about Seretse'. Baxter told him that it would be a long time before Seretse could return even as a private citizen, and he could never return as Chief. The colonial authorities were agreed among themselves that 'reinstatement in a position of authority, on the Union's doorstep, of an African with a white wife and half-breed family would unite and inflame against us all the white population of the Union'. But the main argument to be presented to the Labour Party was to be the irreconcilable split between Tshekedi and Seretse, as evidenced by their dispute over the Gogwane cattle.
Hatch came back to the C.R.O. after Labour's defeat in the April 1955 general election with a proposal to visit Bechuanaland in May to review the situation. The C.R.O. made every atempt to dissuade him and then decided to go along with his plans. Only two years before it had explored ways to stop British politicians, notably John Stonehouse M.P., from visiting the High Commission Territories; and it had successfully diverted the investigative journalist and writer Basil Davidson from a Bechuanaland trip into looking at Swaziland instead.
Seretse himself was enthusiastic about Hatch's visit, and a letter from one lawyer to another saying so was mysteriously freely distributed in the northern, troubled Bokalaka (BoKalanga) district of the Bangwato Reserve. Millard the colonial officer in charge of the northern B.P. was nervous about the effects on the Bangwato of 'at last a European...who comes to talk with them after talking with Seretse himself—in fact almost John the Baptist.'
Hatch's visit had the singular achievement of proving that Tshekedi was by no means as irreconcilable as the C.R.O. made out.
Hatch entered the country from the north in a train from Bulawayo with Forbes Mackenzie the Resident Commissioner, whom he claimed was 'about 6ft 7 in.' He then stayed at Francistown with Millard—'a slight, pleasant brown-faced man'—who drove him through Tonota on the Shashe river to Serowe, where he began to meet and listen to Bangwato. Hatch told Millard at least five times that he wanted to do for Seretse what Professor Keith Hancock , the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at London University, was doing for Kabaka 'Freddie'—getting him home from exile.
The Bangwato told Hatch somewhat wearily, in a memorandum drawn up by K.T. Motsete, that he was the fifth enquiry into the matter. For good measure, Motsete added a reference to Serowe having become like the 'deserted village' of Goldsmith's poem. Others rehearsed their views in favour of Seretse; and Rasebolai, who in earlier months had been making constant requests for assistance from the security force camped at Francistown, expressed himself happy with Hatch's visit.
It was in Tshekedi's village of Pilikwe that Hatch had his most significant meeting, in May 1955. Tshekedi was adamant about Seretse not returning as Chief, but said that he and his followers had never opposed Seretse's return as an ordinary citizen. Tshekedi saw no problem except Seretse's own obduracy in hanging on to chieftainship, and gave the impression that he would support Hatch in getting Seretse back 'as a private individual'.
Tshekedi was by now fond of repeating that chieftainship was dead and gone. Millard interpreted this as Tshekedi pushing ahead constitutional development so that he could dominate the new political system. Hatch for his part was surprised to find Tshekedi so amenable to Seretse.
* * *
Meanwhile and unbeknown to Hatch, John Redfern , a journalist who worked for Beaverbrook's Express newspapers, was writing a book which he was to entitle Ruth and Seretse:"A Disreputable Transaction" — the sub-title being a quote from Churchill in the Commons attacking the prevarications of the Labour government in 1950.
Redfern also wrote a serious play, which was all set to be produced on the London stage by Brian Rix —more famous as a producer of farces. It told of the duplicity of the ministers of Her Majesty's Government and, for that reason, the play was totally banned by the Lord Chamberlain, Britain's theatrical censor. No script is known to survive, but ideas of its contents may be gathered from the chapter titles of the book, including: 'Cold (Clerical) Feet'; 'What Crime?'; 'Snub for History'; 'The Mean Marquis'; 'Case of Conscience'; and, finally, 'An Appeal'.
Ruth and Seretse was published in July 1955 by the campaigning publisher Victor Gollancz. Together with Hatch's visit, it helped to bring the case of Seretse Khama back to international public attention. Though British newspapers, like Redfern himself, not unexpectedly concentrated on the Briton involved—Ruth Khama.
Commonwealth Relations officials thought Redfern's book 'unpleasant' but well informed. Redfern was blamed for not subscribing to the collective self-delusion of the British establishment that appeasement of South Africa was only motivated by concern for the welfare of the High Commission Territories. He was also blamed for not seeing the internal dynastic factors of Bangwato politics, which the C.R.O. had been led to consider as all important ever since Sillery and Tshekedi had put them on this track. There was surprise at the good press given to the book in Britain: 'This is, I am afraid, further evidence that a guilt complex where Seretse is concerned is very widespread.'
South African reviews of the book, however, made the C.R.O. all the more determined not to concede the return from exile that Ruth and Seretse begged as a happy-ever-after final chapter.
Die Transvaler raged about the irrelevance of the Bangwato, while Die Burger saw the book as part of a 'bitter, prejudiced' conspiracy to set the world against 'South Africa: nameless Afrikaners, Afrikaners in general, Dr. Malan, the Dutch Reformed Church'. An editorial talked of 'a great emotional campaign against South Africa' being blown up in Britain, and 'already a feeling in certain British circles that South Africa should be expelled from the Commonwealth'. 'Nothing', concluded another Die Burger article, 'would give some socialistic longhairs and negrophilist clerics more pleasure than a yearlong crusade for the reinstatement of Seretse.'
Anti-apartheid sentiment in Britain
The cosy official relationship between Britain and South Africa had been disturbed by the general election of April 1953. The land-slide white vote for the ruling National Party, had almost wiped out the opposition United Party—which stood for improved relations with Britain.
Then, in December 1954, the affable Dr. D.F. Malan had been replaced as Prime Minister by the intransigent J.G. Strijdom (Strydom), who had made his name as a champion of Afrikaner republicanism and as an opponent of the British Commonwealth. It was Strijdom who, even in 1950, had attacked 'the foolish policy of Britain, France and the United States' against Hitler, as it had 'led to the destruction of Germany—the only bulwark against communism.' And it was the threat of Strijdom that Baring, Forsyth, and probably Malan himself, had used as the bogey in the South African cabinet to keep the British government in line over Seretse Khama.
The sour-faced Strijdom represented an archetype of evil against which the British public could react, combining old anti-Boer spirit and new-found revulsion against racist apartheid . The object of this revulsion was as yet unclear. 'We find it difficult to convey to you', said the Women's International Movement for Peace and Freedom in addressingChurchill, 'the extent of our concern at the repressive racial policy' of South Africa.
Indeed the very word apartheid was only now coming into common usage in British circles, though it had been used in South Africa by the government since 1948 and by the National Party since 1938. By 1955 ' Bantu Education ' and ' Bantu Authorities ' legislation was being put into operation, but the grander implications of apartheid ideology had not yet been spelt out by the Tomlinson Commission.
The C.R.O. was still anxious to harmonize 'native administration' in the High Commission Territories with that of the Union of South Africa, though this was increasingly difficult in practice.
The vestigial deference to South African interests is illustrated by a debate within the C.R.O. in early 1955 over the implications for the High Commission Territories of South Africa becoming a republic. One of the old school of legal advisers, referring back to the compact of Khama III and others with the British government in 1895, gave his opinion that the Crown could not hand over Bechuanaland to a Republic without 'the clearest possible breach of faith with the Bechuana'. (There were no such constraints to stop Britain handing over Basutoland or Swaziland, though.) But C.R.O. officials preferred the opinion of a 'temporary assistant legal adviser' to both the C.O. and C.R.O., who said that no treaty was 'a binding agreement for all time'.
On 27 July 1955, John Hatch's report on the Seretse Khama issue was considered by the national executive of the Labour Party in London. The executive approved the idea of a round-table conference between Seretse, Tshekedi and other parties to thrash out a solution which would allow Seretse back from exile. It was known that Seretse was privately perfectly willing to 'abdicate', and become a private citizen, if he could first consult his people at home or their representatives at the proposed round-table conference.
The Labour Party's colonial spokesman James Griffiths then began negotiations with the C.R.O. and its current minister, the Earl of Home ( Alec Douglas-Home ). The C.R.O. stuck to the established line of not allowing Seretse back until after Rasebolai was well established as Chief (rather than mere Native Authority), and then only as a private citizen. Home then tried to contact Attlee to persuade Seretse to 'abdicate' without any guaranteed preconditions, merely 'to hasten the day when he can return'.
Seretse and Ruth attended the annual conference of the Labour Party at Blackpool in October 1955. They were loudly cheered in the public gallery when pointed out to the delegates by Dr Edith Summerskill in the chair; but she stopped Brockway from speaking about them, on grounds of time. The Sunday Observer newspaper, owned by Tshekedi's friend and ally David Astor, had already called for Seretse's return home as a private citizen.
Final reconciliation with Tshekedi
Seretse and Tshekedi were being brought back in contact though the encouragement of Noni Jabavu , daughter of Tshekedi's old friend J.T. Jabavu, who visited the Khamas at Addiscombe together with her English husband. Seretse cabled Tshekedi about his attitude to the Labour Party's proposals—his first direct communication with his uncle, according to Tshekedi, in six years. Tshekedi was encouraged by this, but refused to commit himself in support of his nephew until Seretse told him 'how he felt we might now co-operate and assist each other'. Tshekedi wanted Seretse's help to get back into Bangwato politics now that vital mineral negotiations were beginning.
The issue was raised in the Commons by Fenner Brockway on October 27th, but once again it was fobbed off by the government's reply. Pains were taken to dissociate the case of Seretse Khama from that of Kabaka Mutesa II, who had just been permitted to return home to Uganda from exile in Britain.
Disturbing news was reaching the C.R.O. of Tshekedi's supporters coming together with Seretse's for a united delegation to a round-table conference in London. The C.R.O. consulted Leisching, who had become its High Commissioner in Pretoria in March 1955. Liesching advised strongly against anything which undermined the 'traditional form of government' in the B.P., notably the abolition of chieftainship proposed by Tshekedi.
The Earl of Home therefore decided to stick to his party's line of getting Rasebolai made Chief at any cost. Prime minister Anthony Eden thought the 'Socialist party appears to be behaving very badly' by not agreeing.
* * *
An enterprising journalist travelled down to Addiscombe to gauge Seretse's reaction to the return home of Kabaka 'Freddie'. She found him behind diamond-paned windows in a living room with dark oak beams, leopard-skin karosses and and new furniture, including television and radiogram. The record on the turntable was 'That Old Black Magic'.
Seretse did not have any high hopes of following Freddie, but great men were supposed to be capable of changing their minds. He was excited by the prospects of economic development for his country, with the opening of a new abattoir for meat exports—but wanted to see 'agricultural' as well as 'pastoral' development. But people needed their chiefs, rather than government officials, to persuade them to take up new farming methods. He added: 'It is very difficult to do nothing at all when there is so much to be done.' Life in exile was obviously getting him down: 'One is inclined to get frightfully bored. One would not have time to get bored at home.'
He seldom uses the first person in speech, it is nearly always 'one'. His large frame is slowly beginning to silt up with the years of inactivity. He sits with indolent grace in his armchair. His face is often blank, although he is a keen, intelligent man with a wide-smiling charm that makes him many friends.
The evenings are spent in entertaining friends and very seldom going out to theatres or dances. Ruth occasionally tries to learn Sechuana, her husband's tongue, which is 'terribly difficult', and for which there are no text-books.
Cooking, 'always chicken curry or steak', is another pastime.
Seretse came up, typically, with the sort of humorous comment which could put an interlocutor off balance—not knowing how much to believe him. 'She doesn't cook too badly', he said of his cookery graduate wife, adding mischievously, 'considering I taught her.' But the journalist was obviously impressed with the couple's relationship, and remarked: 'One thing is certain. Their marriage will last.'
In a subsequent interview, almost four months later, Seretse was anxious to correct the impression of slothfulness. He had travelled all over Britain busy lecturing, telling British people about Bechuanaland and its people and problems—in Scotland, England, and Wales, at Glasgow and Edinburgh, Leeds and Sheffield, and Port Talbot. (He could have added his talks given in London, such as at a Foyle's literary luncheon—then considered the height of chic.) 'I have no doubt', added Seretse, 'that if it rested with the ordinary British people, I should be back [home] any time. But is the British Cabinet that must give the decision.'
By now, in February 1956, his spirits were up once again about returning home. He was getting letters urging his return from Bangwato in nearly every mail delivery. 'I feel restless—an urge to get back to where I rightly belong.'
One passage of this interview, as contained in a press clipping in Tshekedi Khama's archives, is marked with Tshekedi's bold pencil stroke. It is where Seretse talks about impending government plans for development in his country. The plans would not work if 'there is no life, no enthusiasm among the people there', and if development was regarded as a purely administrative matter. 'I believe I could help in bringing those plans to a good end, and it would be my aim and joy to do so.'
Tshekedi was beginning to agree.
Reconciliation as the precondition for economic development
The Bangwato had first been presented with the renewed options of mineral development in their territory at a government-convened Kgotla meeting of October 1955. World mineral prices were high in a post-Korean War boom, and the Anglo-American Corporation of South Africa was interested in prospecting for copper, coal, diamonds, nickel and asbestos in the Bangwato Reserve. But the Bangwato present refused to consider further negotiations without the return of Seretse.
This was also a case where people knew that the real expert for negotiations was Tshekedi, who had successfully stopped the same corporation from mining in the reserve in the early 1930s. Yet Tshekedi was also forbidden to engage in such local 'politics'. The C.R.O. was also most unsympathetic to his promotion of the idea of a Legislative Council, as merely a mechanism to make himself 'the acknowledged leader of all Bechuanaland'.
At last the Bangwato had a carrot to dangle in front of the British donkey, and to bring it down to its knees. The revenge was sweet because this came in a year when Percival Liesching, as the new High Commissioner, had deliberately snubbed the Bangwato by refusing to visit Serowe on his inaugural tours of the Protectorate. The potential importance of minerals in the Bangwato Reserve had been recognised in the 'comprehensive review of economic development' prepared for the High Commission Territories, by A.C.B. Symon of the C.R.O., in December 1954.
By October 1955 the Anglo-American Corporation was showing interest, and James Griffith of the Labour Party was talking of a potential 'second Copperbelt'. The Symon Report resulted in a British government White Paper on the development of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland in December 1955; and in a rudimentary 1956-60 development plan being drawn up for Bechuanaland also in that month.
Ironically, the main obstacles to change in Bechuanaland were the very men that the C.R.O. had sent out to develop greater political participation through local councils in the Protectorate—notably Millard as Divisional Commissioner for the northern B.P., and Liesching the High Commissioner. Taking a leaf out of the South African book, where chieftainship was being 're-invented' in the Transkei and elsewhere, Millard and Leisching and others in the High Commission Territories administrative service became die-hard advocates of the re-constitution of traditional authority.
Tshekedi felt obliged to take issue over this with Millard, the only official he implicitly trusted, in December 1955. Tshekedi was trying to distance himself from Rasebolai's exercise of power as Native (Tshekedi preferred 'Tribal') Authority. He was was by now convinced that Seretse must return to achieve the abolition of chieftainship. Both himself and Seretse needed to be 'free citizens' to participate in the necessary round-table conference on the future of the Bangwato. He also talked of his own followers. the 'so called Rametsana', as 'developing into a Political Party'. But Tshekedi, much to the relief of Liesching and the C.R.O., did not at this stage make public his support for the idea of a round-table conference.
Rasebolai's rule was becoming increasingly precarious. Since 30 May 1952 there had been an almost clean sweep of the twelve main district governorships (Chief's Representatives) and village headmanships of the Ngwato state. The 'Keaboka crowd' had been replaced by men sympathetic to Rasebolai but not always popular, especially among the 'allied' clans subject to the ruling Ngwato clan. The only serious outbreak of unrest was at Nshakashogwe's village in the Bokalaka district during November 1955, where BaKalanga people, anticipating the return of Seretse, began to protest against 'Rametsana' rule.
By February 1956 the Golden City Post , a newspaper aimed at blacks in Johannesburg, was saying:
The chiefless Bamangwato nation is reported to be on the verge of disintegration, and it is believed that only the return of Seretse can return peace, economic stability and security to the protectorate.
Peto Sekgoma, as Seretse's agent, took it upon himself to collect and supply details of judicial and administrative abuses by Rasebolai's nominees to Fenner Brockway in London. An account of these abuses was written up and published in three issues of the weekly pacifist newspaper, Peace News , in May-June 1955. It was then prepared as a pamphlet of the Movement for Colonial Freedom, titled Bechuanaland—What Seretse's Exile Means .
In fact tension in the Bangwato Reserve appears to have slackened with the removal of the colonial government's security force, back to its barracks in Gaborone, in January 1956. Bangwato were induced back to the Kgotla on March 7th and 26th to talk once again with the District Commissioner about mineral concessions. Most speakers were in favour, but insisted that no collective decision could be made until both Seretse and Tshekedi could participate in negotiations. Even in Bokalaka, villagers were asking for Tshekedi to explain previous mining concessions to them. Tshekedi was also getting on well with people such as Lenyeletse Seretse, perhaps Seretse's cousin and closest friend and former anti-Tshekedi Boanergés .
At the end of March Tshekedi wrote to his legal adviser in London, a Conservative M.P., asking for the mining matter to be raised at Westminster. He added that he was coming to London in July-August, to settle his two elder sons at boarding school in Ireland.
Brockway raised the question of Bangwato 'atrocities' at Westminster in June 1956. But Bechuanaland was blown back into the British purview in that month more by South African prime minister Strijdom's controversial attendance at the Commonwealth prime ministers' conference in London. Strijdom's presence brought to a head in Britain the issues of apartheid and transfer of the High Commission Territories.
Parting of the ways with White South Africa
The Tomlinson Report , South Africa's grand apartheid plan, had been published in summary form in April 1956. The High Commission Territories were an integral part of that plan, as 'heartlands' for the Bantu 'homelands'. Thereby increasing the miserable thirteen per cent of the land in black communal ownership to a more healthy looking 45 per cent. The report marked an insuperable parting of the ways with British colonial policy by expounding a philosophy of ultimate total racial separation, which made all the more clear British advocacy of ' multi-racialism '. British policy was to encourage rather than discourage 'white capital' and white settlement in Bechuanaland and elsewhere, so that African and European and Asian 'races' might remain socially distinct but would cooperate in economic development and political structures.
The C.R.O. anticipated renewed South African claims to the High Commission Territories. Strijdom was warned off on April 17th, 1956, by repetition of previous warnings of 1949 and 1954 that transfer was not practical politics at Westminster. Transfer of the High Commission Territories to South Africa was seen as the one colonial issue that could bring down a British government, Conservative or Labour, by a revolt of its back-benchers.
Naught for your Comfort by Father Trevor Huddlestone, a devastating critique of South African race policies, was published at Easter. For the first time, the immorality of apartheid became a hot public issue in Britain. Huddlestone's speaking engagements at Bristol in June generated public support for the High Commission Territories as shop windows of British 'multi-racialism' in Southern Africa. There were also the beginnings of regular anti- apartheid demonstrations outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square.
It was hardly surprising that Strijdom proved to be so defensive when he came to London for the Commonwealth prime ministers' conference at then end of June. He appealed to British self-interest as 'Britons, proud of your British race and heritage...which like ours is white and European', not to force his people into 'race suicide'. The C.R.O. retort was that apartheid repression was itself hastening the 'end of the whites' in South Africa. There appears to have been little love between Strijdom and Eden, or between the Earl of Home and his opposite number, the choleric South African foreign minister Eric Louw . Home in particular was rapidly losing patience.
Seretse & Tshekedi plan the future together
Tshekedi arrived in London by sea in July 1956, with his wife and two elder sons, ostensibly on a private visit without political overtones. Public attention was taken up with the Suez Crisis, with Nasser's announcement of Egypt's unilateral nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26th.
The issue of Seretse's return home, raised officially by the Labour Party, was debated once again in the House of Commons on August 1st. The speakers and and even the speeches were mostly predictable. One new note was Tony Benn comparing the fame of Seretse Khama—as an issue 'debated and discussed wherever intelligent thinking people meet in any part of the world'—with the fame of Miss Lucy, who had made news as the first black student to enter the University of Alabama . The other new note was the call of Conservatives as well as Labour for the development of democratic institutions in Bechuanaland. The House had, after all, been discussing the merits of self-government for colonies in West Africa. But the call for Seretse's return home once again met with the predictable government rebuff.
Tshekedi contacted Seretse at Addiscombe from his hotel in Bayswater on August 5th. There is no record of their discussions, but it appears that it was Tshekedi who persuaded Seretse that now was the time to act. They should take advantage of the breach which had opened up, but might again close, between the British establishment and White South Africa—which both men knew perfectly well was the essential factor behind Seretse's exile.
Wary of premature publicity, which had destroyed their previous compact of August 1950, they agreed to keep their negotiations secret from both Seretse's Labour supporters and Tshekedi's Conservative supporters until their case was unstoppable. Instead, to prepare parliamentary support for their joint case, they took into their confidence Clem Davies the leader of the small but principled Liberal Party, which had most consistently supported both of them.
On August 15th, 1956, Seretse and Tshekedi appeared before the Earl of Home with a signed joint statement. In it, Seretse joined Tshekedi in renouncing the Chieftainship for himself and his children. They said there was no longer any dispute between them, and both wished to live freely in the Bangwato Reserve with their families. They would then do everything in their power to help develop representative institutions, notably a tribal council, without disputing the right of Rasebolai to be what was by now called 'African Authority'. They both wanted to return home 'as free citizens with as full political rights as anyone else, and to be allowed to serve our people in any capacity to which they may wish to elect us.'
To symbolize their reconciliation, Tshekedi and his wife Ella, and their sons Leapeetswe ('Peachy') and Sekgoma ('Secky') moved in to stay with Seretse and his family at Addiscombe for their last two weeks, before returning home to prepare the way for Seretse. The Tshekedi children, unlike Seretse, were keen horse-riders who happily accompanied Ruth on her morning canters.
The Earl of Home turns the tables
Home was enthusiastic at Seretse's 'abdication', but gave out no hope of Seretse's imminent return. Behind the scenes he leapt at the opportunity to solve once and for all the intractable case of Seretse Khama, which had dogged British governments for seven years. Going against the receivedwisdom of his officials, he ordered an urgent review of the case within the C.R.O. A case history was drawn up by Eleanor Emery and Michael Fairlie for their superiors in the office.
Home concluded, in a memorandum to Cabinet dated November 7th, that the establishment of Rasebolai as Kgosi, the main point of Conservative policy, was impracticable in the foreseeable future. But he had to sound out Rasebolai's agreement to Seretse's return, and to make sure that Seretse's return as an ordinary person could be stage-managed without problems.
The most vital question, surprisingly not stated in the Cabinet memorandum, was assessment of likely impact on South Africa's claims to the High Commission Territories. As it happened, both London and Liesching had received soothing intelligence on this from an American source.
The American historian John S. Galbraith, director of British Empire studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, was doing the rounds of Southern Africa on a Ford Foundation grant, enquiring about the High Commission Territories. He had found South African parliamentarians remarkably conciliatory over the issue, not wanting to cause any greater fuss for White South Africa than it was currently enduring at the hands of the world's press. Galbraith had also found that senior colonial officials in Bechuanaland were holding back on the development of tribal councils, which had now become Conservative as well as Labour policy.
After presenting presented his memorandum on September 11th, 1956, sandwiched between consideration of Ghana's independence and the Suez Crisis, Home returned to Cabinet on September 26th with a simple announcement of success. The announcement of Seretse's renunciation of Chieftainship, and of his impending return from exile, was also made at Serowe on September 26th, as well as to the press in London.
People in Serowe and the press had already heard the news the night before. According to Tshekedi's friends, Hatch had 'leaked' the news to two newspapers on the 24th. The press had then staked out the Khama household in Addiscombe on the 25th. Ruth Khama had taken Jacqueline to her primary school (Addiscombe College) and Ian to his Croydon nursery school in the morning, while Seretse stayed behind to man the telephone. Questioned after the announcement on the morning of the 26th, Seretse replied: 'This is a great day for me. I shall miss my friends, but I have been dying to get home. I expect to go within a month. I expect my wife and children will fly out later.'
Seretse and Ruth also reportedly sent their thanks to the Liberals' Clem Davies for his help in recent weeks—but, pointedly, not to the Labour Party. The Observer four days later remarked that the enthusiasm of the Khamas was 'quite infectious: you would think there was no place in the world so wonderful to live in as Serowe.'
The end of exile
Seretse flew out from London's Heathrow airport on Tuesday October 9th, 1956. He told reporters that he wanted to help his people 'to develop a democratic system, raise the standard of living and establish a happy healthy nationhood.' He added: 'I have renounced the chieftainship as I have always been prepared to do. I will be taking part in local politics if I so wish.'
South African newspapers were taken aback at the news of Seretse's impending return, but were surprisingly muted. Die Transvaler saw it as an offensive condoning of mixed marriages. The Rand Daily Mail deplored the British tendency of seeing Seretse 'as a sort of African Duke of Windsor', while the Johannesburg Star thought the decision 'explosive'.
The enthusiasm of the British press and establishment was summed up by The Times . After praising the integrity and dignity of Seretse, Tshekedi, and Ruth Khama, the newspaper commented on the inept actions of British administrators:
The fundamental mistake was committed when, this decision having been taken for deeply based imperial reasons, the attempt was made to disguise it as a concession to the wishes of the tribe...All the subsequent embarrassments have flowed from the intellectual dishonesty of this unhappy procedure.
At the end of October 1956 Britain and France, the two greatest colonial powers, declared war on Egypt. A week later they were reduced to a humiliating cease-fire. People in Britain immediately sensed that the imperial era of Britain's greatness was over. The lesson of Seretse's return, during the traumatic period of the Suez Crisis, was that the end of imperialism might also be a return to honour among nations.
Chapter 7 COUNCILLOR,1956-60
Seretse Khama arrived back in Bechuanaland from exile at 5 pm on Wednesday October 10th, 1956. At Francistown airport Seretse was welcomed on the tarmac by his sister Oratile and by his uncles Tshekedi and Rasebolai. 'Tshekedi's hat was whipped off by the wind, but he hardly noticed it in the grip of the moment of friendship after years of dispute.' Through the war of the wind they could hear the roar of the crowd come to greet Seretse at the airport gate.
Seretse tried to address the crowd at the gate, holding out his arms 'like Billy Graham', but people refused to stop loudly jubilating. His car was mobbed by 'thousands of men, women and children, tightly packed', jamming the progress of the car for maybe ten minutes. 'Men threw their hats into the air, and while some women flung themselves to the ground, others kissed the car's bonnet.'
After a short conference, at the offices of the divisional commissioner in Francistown, Seretse once again attempted to address people. Once again he could not be heard above the din. He was taken by car to stay overnight with his sister Oratile in the Francistown township for Africans, segregated at the south end of the 'European' streets.
Late on Thursday afternoon Seretse drove into Palapye and received 'a noisy and enthusiastic welcome', before branching off on the dirt road to Serowe. The last few kilometres into the capital were lined by a cheering mass of people. After reporting to the district commissioner, Seretse was taken though the crowds to the Chief's residence and the Tribal Office behind the Kgotla.
The welcome in front of Rasebolai's house was fantastic. The crowd surged and swayed around Seretse, stretching out their hands to touch him, pat him, caress him. It was sheer joy. Nature then added its blessing: as Seretse emerged from the office, the first crash of thunder split the air. Flashes of lightning followed each other and clouds erupted..."Seretse's home and it's raining," screamed the mob. "Seretse has brought the pula."
Over the next few days the colonial authorities were gratified to see that Seretse, 'moving freely about the town, had a most calming effect'. He 'virtually leaned over backwards', according to the Jophannesburg Star, 'to discourage demonstrations'. He also agreed that that the formal Kgotla assembly to receive him back should be delayed from Saturday to Wednesday. And he tried and failed to persuade women not to come to the meeting—a characteristic, if awkwardly expressed, attempt by Seretse to contain emotionalism in politics.
The welcome Kgotla at Serowe, 1956, seen from Serowe Hill.
Photograph courtesy of Botswana Information Services.
The welcoming assemply in the Serowe Kgotla began at 9 o'clock on the Wednesday morning. A delegation of four men and one woman came forward, from the crowd of between five to seven thousand, to greet Seretse. The men squatted respectfully, holding their hats, while the shawled woman knelt behind them.
A photograph shows Rasebolai and Chief Bathoen II of the Bangwaketse leaning forward from their seats to hear the deputation, while Seretse and Tshekedi lean back against the Kgotla poles, listening askance. Rasebolai then introduced Seretse, who 'spoke at length and with great sincerity'.
Tshekedi (left) and Seretse (right) address the welcoming Kgotla at
Photograph courtesy of Botswana Information Services.
Other speakers followed, notably Keaboka Kgamane. Seretse's speech 'completely took the wind out of the sails' of the young men in the crowd who might otherwise have tried to re-install Seretse as Kgosi by noisy acclamation in Kgotla. Finally, there was a moment of some tension. Chief Mokgosi III of the Balete called on Seretse and Tshekedi to shake hands in public. Elders at the front hissed against this alien custom, and the two men desisted. But people at the back of the crowd could not hear the elders' objection, and expressed their dissent until suitably enlightened.
* * *
International press coverage of Seretse's return home was constrained by news of the ceasefire on the Suez Canal of November 8th, and by the aftermath of the failed Hungarian revolution of November 5th, 1956.
The optimism of British press comment over Seretse's return contrasted with comment in South African newspapers. The Scotsman published a long article titled 'Apartheid as a boomerang'. The 'real story' behind Seretse's return home, according to the newspaper, was that Bechuanaland could now develop rich deposits of 'copper, chrome and zinc', which 'opens up the unwelcome prospect of an independent Black State on the borders of the Union.' The Scotsman spelt out the implications. Bechuanaland would need white people, and thus 'multi-racialism', to develop its resources; though the people of Bechuanaland would be be averse to bringing in South African whites with apartheid ideas. Bechuanaland could thereby 'give a strong lead' to 'the Liberal wing of African opinion in the Union who favour co-operation with the whites', and exemplified by Dr. Xuma of the ANC. Liberal democracy in Bechuanaland would be a slap in the face not only for apartheid but also for anti-white black nationalists and the 'not yet significant' number of communists in South Africa.
The English-language press in South Africa had little to say. A typically haughty editorial in the Rand Daily Mail wondered what all the fuss was about. A correspondent in The Star opined: 'My view is that the troubles of the Bamangwato are not over.' The response of the Afrikaans press was much more vigorous. Die Transvaler, voice of the ruling faction in the National Party, pursued The Scotsman's line of argument to opposite effect. It argued that, through the return of Seretse, Britain was promoting in Bechuanaland 'a form of Western democratic control which completely departs from tribal tradition...which the Union Government applies in South African Native Areas.' The newspaper expressed its fears that development of mineral concessions in Bangwato territory would give its people the clout to resist South African incorporation of their land.
The South African government's response to the British government's release of Seretse Khama from exile was, as anticipated, muted. Their high commissioner in London petitioned the Commonwealth Relations Office for clarification of Britain's intentions for the political development of Bechuanaland. The high commissioner was anxious not to give the impression of interfering in Britain's patch, but the South African government could not hide its concern about the potential development of 'multi-racialism' and liberal democratic institutions in Bechuanaland. Multi-racial development in Bechuanaland was in stark contradiction to South Africa's grand apartheid plan, spelt out in the Tomlinson Report, which envisaged Bechuanaland as a purely black territory—whose incorporation would increase the 'Bantu' areas of South Africa from under thirteen to around 45 percent of the total land mass.
The further threat to White South Africa, highlighted by the return home of Seretse and by its boost to the political ambitions of Tshekedi, was the political development of Bechuanaland through local 'tribal' councils, leading to a multi-racial Legislative Council for the whole territory. Tshekedi had been calling for such a 'Legco' since 1954.
Back to top || Glosssary || Marriage: 1948-50 || Banishment: 1950-52 || Exile: 1952-56 || Councillor: 1956-60
This text appears by permission of the Botswana Society and is not to be reproduced without authorization.
Last updated 12 Dec. 2016