In April-May 1952, a Bangwato delegation visited England to lobby the British government and public to allow Seretse and Ruth Khama to return to Botswana.
The delegation’s leader was Kgosi Keaboka Kgamane, who in April 1950 had reluctantly agreed to serve under the British as “Senior Tribal Representative” following the couple’s banishment.
Keaboka was accompanied by five others, being: Peto Sekgoma, who had spearheaded support for Seretse, Kobe Baitswe, the Headman of Seleka village who further represented Letswapong, Moutlwatsi Mpotokwane from Tonota who served as the Supervisor of Gammangwato schools, Mongwaketse Mathangwane, representing the North-East, and Gaothobogwe Leposo, the Headman of Mmadinare. The delegation was joined by Seretse’s South African lawyer Percy Fraenkel.
In the face of colonial regime opposition, money for the trip had been raised from throughout the district. The trip was sanctioned at a kgotla meeting held in Serowe on March 28, 1952, where there had been overwhelming support for sending the delegation.
The delegates were selected to be representatives of the various Gammangwato communities. The kgotla’s determination to send the “ambassadors” had been fuelled by the news of the British Government’s decision that Seretse and Ruth’s exile should be made permanent. The seven left from Johannesburg on April 6, 1952, only arriving in London on April 9, 1952, due to stopovers.
Upon their arrival, they were met by Seretse’s UK lawyer Lord Rathcreeden and the veteran anti-imperialist politician Fenner Brockway. They then travelled to the home of Seretse and Ruth, where Seretse’s sister Naledi also stayed, to brief them on their mission and developments back home.
It was two weeks before the British Government finally relented and agreed to give the delegation an audience with the colonial Secretary of State Lord Salisbury.
In the interim, they attended meetings arranged by the Seretse Khama Fighting Committee and the Racial Unity coalition, which were organized to give Seretse a platform to speak out in the context of the news of his permanent banishment. The meeting with Lord Salisbury finally took place on April 21, 1952, during which Mpotokwane observed that “the tribe believed that they had been deprived of their Chief because of the colour bar and because we are a small nation.” Baitswe implored the Secretary of State ‘not to give them a snake when they asked for a fish, or a stone when asked for bread.
Leposo observed that the nine village in his region had stopped paying tax, but had now resumed due to Seretse urging, further noting the loyalty Batswana had traditionally show since the time of Kgosi Khama III’s 1895 visit.
Sekgoma affirmed that “If Seretse was allowed to return there would be no trouble of any kind.” After each member of the delegation had had their say, Keaboka concluded by denouncing the increasing presence of outside police within the reserve, observing that as a result of such developments he was no longer willing to serve under the colonial regime in any official capacity.
He went on to note that: “In 1941 he had been a soldier and had gone to Italy. There, the troops had been issued currency inscribed with the language of Mr. Churchill’s Atlantic Charter declaration about the four freedoms.
These freedoms were now being denied to the Bangwato, although they had fought loyally in the war. The Bangwato needed protection from Rhodesia and the Union [of South Africa], but the banishment of Seretse meant that the Government favoured the Union.” He concluded:
“We ask for bread but you give us stones, release our Chief! After the meeting, the delegation issued a press statement, which was given favourable media coverage. Despite the positive publicity being generated, at a brief follow-up meeting a week later Lord Salisbury simply restated the government’s position. Before returning home, the delegation held a press conference, with Mpotokwane serving as the spokesperson. “We are convinced that we are being very unjustly and unfairly treated. We consider ourselves as human beings and entitled to the same rights and liberties as any other individuals.
The Government’s decision amounts to nothing but cowardice. We are sure the British public will not tolerate the racial discrimination that the British Government is adopting.”
With Seretse’s blessing, the delegation reiterated his earlier proposal that he be allowed to return as a commoner, noting: “We are convinced that the presence of Seretse in the tribal area is essential if peace and good government are to prevail, and if he cannot be there as Chief, then he should be allowed to return to the area in some other capacity.
The tribe needs counsel and advice and it is unfortunate that the government considers that his marriage prevents them from confirming him as Chief.”
With the refusal of their final proposal, the delegation joined Seretse in speaking out publicly at a series of large public meetings that were held across England before their departure.
The audience at a gathering in Birmingham reportedly numbering over 2,000. Their message, as articulated by Mathangwane was: “When we get home there will be no cooperation between us and the Government.”
Although the delegation left Britain on May 15, 1952, having failed in their mission of getting the British to rescind Seretse’s banishment, their presence had generated enormous coverage in the British and international media.