A glimpse of Seretse Khama's legacy

Staff Writer
For Sir Seretse Khama Day Holiday: Profile of the late Sir Seretse Khama, NYB, KBE, LLD, D.LITT, PHD, MP, First President of the Republic of Botswana. 30 September 1966 - 13 July 1980.

The late Sir Seretse Khama was the first President of the Republic of Botswana. He inherited an impoverished and internationally obscure state from British rule and left it as a democratic and increasingly prosperous nation with a significant role in southern Africa.

Seretse Khama was born on1 July 1921 at Serowe in what was then the Bangwato Tribal Reserve of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

He was the son and heir of Sekgoma Khama and Tebogo (nee Kebailele). In 1923 his father succeeded his grandfather as the Kgosi or ruler of the Bangwato.

His reign, as with Kgosi Sekgoma II, was short as he died in 1925.

After the death of his mother in 1930, Seretse remained in the care of his uncle, Tshekedi Khama, who ruled the Bangwato as regent Seretse attende higher primary and secondary education in South Africa at two prominent mission schools, Lovedale and Tiger Kloof, before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at Fort Hare College. Thereafter he studied law at the University of Witwatersrand and Balloil College, Oxford, before taking up further barrister studies at Inner Temple in London.

In June 1947, while in London, Seretse met Ruth Williams. Their interracial marriage in September 1948 ultimately threw the British Empire into turmoil. Initially it was uncle Tshekedi who ordered Seretse home to demand a divorce.

But after a series of public meetings in Serowe, Seretse was popularly recognised as Kgosi together with his wife. Tshekedi then gave way and went into self-exile.

The proclamation of a black chief with a white wife in a territory strategically located between South Africa and the Rhodesias caused an outcry among the white settler politicians. South Africa had come under the control of white Afrikaner nationalists in 1948.

The then Labour Party government in Britain was desperate to secure its economic as well as political ties with the new apartheid regime. It therefore quietly agreed to bar Seretse Khama from chieftainship.

A judicial enquiry was set up to try to prove Seretse's personal unfitness to rule. But, instead it concluded that Seretse was eminently fit to rule. The British government then suppressed the commissions report. Seretse and his wife were exiled to England.

The persecution of Seretse and Ruth Khama received extensive international press coverage and a wide range of people around the world expressed outrage. Eventually, in 1956, the British finally allowed Seretse and Ruth to return to Botswana as private citizens. What the London authority had not expected was the political acclaim that six years exile had given him beck home, where Seretse Khama was acclaimed as a nationalist hero.

From 1957-62 Seretse Khama was involved in the reform of local and territorial government leading to the establishment of legislative council as key steps towards decolonisation.

In 1962 he founded the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP). Its

call for reform, leading to a non-racial independent republic, the BDP was able to draw overwhelming support.
It won the first universal franchise election in March 1965, allowing Seretse Khama to be the first prime minister of a self-governing Bechuanaland Protectorate before leading the country to full independence a year later.

At independence, Botswana was entirely surrounded by white racist regimes. It was widely but falsely assumed that the country had no option but to sell-out to its neighbours, South Africa -including South-West Africa- and Southern Rhodesia.
The new government could not cover the costs of administration from taxes. It was continually indebted to Britain. The first task was to lay the groundwork for an export-oriented economy, based on beef processing, copper and diamond mining.

Between 1966 and 1980 Botswana had the fastest growing economy in the world. It also came to be seen a remarkable state with high principles, upholding liberal democracy and non-racialism in the midst of a region embroiled in civil war, racial enmity and corruption.
State mineral revenues were invested in infrastructural development, education and health and in subsidies to cattle production. The result was a great increase in general prosperity and in rural as well as urban areas.

Seretse Khama also used his unique authority to develop local democracy
and curtail the powers of traditional chiefs to develop citizen administrative capacity without over-bureaucratisisation and to promotion of the rule of law.

As Botswana progressed, Seretse Khama was able to turn more of his attention to foreign policy, finding key early allies in Presidents Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

In his final decade he played and increasingly prominent role as a Pan African statesman. He was one of the "Frontline" presidents who negotiated the future of Zimbabwe and Namibia.

In the face of the terrorist activities of the Smith regime in particular, the Botswana Defence Force was created to guard Botswana's borders, protecting the growing number of refugees as well as the citizenry.

During that, period Seretse Khama articulated a clear vision of the
future of Southern Africa after colonialism and apartheid as a peaceful, democratic and prosperous region. He was thus the key founder of what has since become the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The rigours of constant travel for international negotiations leading to the independence of Zimbabwe finally exhausted Seretse Khama. But he had the final satisfaction of witnessing both the independence of Zimbabwe in March 1980 and the launching of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference in April, before his death on the 13 July 1980.

Khama is fondly remembered for his intelligence, integrity and sense of humour. Of his lasting legacy it can be said that the perpetual democracy, socio-economic development, political stability and unity that Batswana experiences today are what Sir Seretse Khama always stood for.



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