Seretse Khama (1921 - 1980)
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Seretse Khama
Seretse Khama was born on 1 July 1921 in Serowe. He was the son of Sekgoma Khama, and grandson of Kgosi Khama III, ruler of the Bangwato people of central Bechuanaland (then a British Protectorate, now known as Botswana).When Sekgoma died in 1925 after only two years on the throne, his four-year-old son Seretse was proclaimed king, with the boy's uncle, Tshekedi Khama, serving as regent. Seretse Khama was sent to boarding schools in South Africa and later attended Fort Hare University College in the Eastern Cape, where he graduated with a BA degree in 1944. At Fort Hare, Khama – who excelled within the milieu of political debate, which was a feature of the times – came into contact with many other students who would go on to lead their countries to independence.Like many of his peers, Khama wanted to pursue legal studies and in 1945 he was sent to Balliol College, Oxford. After a year, he enrolled for barrister studies at the Inner Temple, London.
In 1947, Khama met an English woman Ruth Williams whom he married the following year. Although his uncle Tshekedi disapproved of his marriage, the people of Serowe popularly accepted the young king and his new wife when they returned to Botswana. However, in a shameless display of racism and fearful of the example set by this multiracial marriage, the British Labour Government barred Khama from taking up chieftainship of the Bangwato. In 1951, under pressure from the apartheid regime in South Africa, Khama was forced into exile in England.
By 1956, the extensive international press coverage of the treatment of Seretse and Ruth Khama by successive British governments resulted in widespread protests from human rights and other humanitarian groupings. Eventually, in 1956, Britain allowed them back home as commoners and private citizens. Firmly ensconced in his own country, Khama formed and led the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) in 1960. In 1965, the BDP won the first democratic elections in Botswana under universal franchise. Khama became Prime Minister and later, on 30 September 1966, President of the newly declared Republic of Botswana, a position he held until his death in 1980.
Under President Khama's leadership, prudent policies and wise investment of state resources, Botswana underwent rapid economic and social development, boasting one of the world's fastest growing economies. Within a span of 16 years, Botswana went from being one of the poorest African countries to one of the wealthiest (measured by gross domestic product). Twenty-five years after Khama's death, Botswana continues to serve as a beacon of prosperity and development on the continent and is an outstanding example of good governance.
Khama was also concerned with the fate of neighbouring countries. Accordingly, he was a key player in the negotiation processes which eventually led to the independence of Zimbabwe and Namibia. Khama was also a founder member of the Southern African Development Community. Sir Seretse Khama steadfastly set Botswana on the path to progress and peace, thus bequeathing to his country the legacy of enduring administrative capacity, clean governance and an unshakeable belief in a non-racial democracy and the rule of law. He will always be remembered for his wise counsel and his successful nurturing of Botswana's economic and political success.
Sir Seretse Khama died on 13 July 1980, and was buried in the Khama family graveyard, on the hill at Serowe overlooking his birthplace.