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Making History
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Listen to this editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook presents the series that examines listeners' historical queries, exploring avenues of research and uncovering mysteries.
Sir Seretse Khama - first President of Botswana

Listener's query
"In the forties I remember Sir Seretse Khama hitting headlines because he had married a white Englishwoman - which would rightly be unremarkable now, but the climate was very different fifty-odd years ago. Can you explain what happened and why it was seen as such a problem? He went on to become his country's first President."

Brief summary
Sir Seretse Khama (1921-80), the first President of Botswana - formerly Bechuanaland - died in 1980 at the age of only 59. In the late 1940s he made headlines in the British press and became enmeshed in political turmoil back home because of what had happened in his private life.

Botswana before independence was the Protectorate of Bechuanaland, established in 1885 and run originally from Mafeking. It was landlocked, adjoining South Africa and very much at the mercy of the Union of South Africa in the years of rule by the white majority, established in 1885. The first President, Sir Seretse Khama, was the grandson and heir of King Khama III, who died in 1923. The Bangwato family of which Seretse Khama was the heir were hereditary rulers of the Protectorate. In 1925 Seretse Khama was made King, his uncle acting as regent.

Seretse Khama was in London after the Second World War, training as a barrister. There he met and married Ruth Williams, a white English commoner. This caused great difficulties for him at home and he was exiled in 1951, only being allowed back to Bechuanaland when he had renounced his title. The British government's role in this does them no credit. Apartheid was beginning to tighten its grip and the government, fearing that they would make no headway in South Africa if Seretse Khama ruled the country, took away his chieftainship. He was said to be unfit to rule, and a judicial inquiry which declared him to be perfectly fit for the job was kept secret. He returned to Bechuanaland as a private citizen but now with the freedom to enter politics. He formed the Bechuanaland Democratic Party, won the elections and led the way to independence, becoming his country's first President. He remained in the post until his death in 1980. He created a multiracial democratic society and was one the great successes of this era of African politics.

Expert consulted
Professor Willie Henderson of Birmingham University - Professor Henderson worked in Botswana in its early days, knew Sir Seretse Khama and has written about him

Further reading
Thomas Tlou, Neil Parsons and Willie Henderson, Seretse Khama, 1921-1980 (Macmillan, 1995)
Dickson Mungazi, We Shall Not Fail: Values In The National Leadership Of Seretse Khama, Nelson Mandela And Julius Nyerere (Africa World Press, 2004)
Michael Dutfield, A Marriage of Inconvenience: Persecution of Ruth and Seretse Khama (HarperCollins, 1990)


Seretse Khama 1921-80

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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

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Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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