The Ordeal of Seretse AND HIS White Queen Ruth
ON A HOT August afternoon in 1950 two thousand women of the Bamangwato, a tribe of cattle ranchers who live in the British protectorate of Bechuanaland on the northern border of South Africa, gathered to sing a song especially written for that day:
When the chief comes back we will be waiting for him;
Seretse has his dogs and his dogs are the Bamangwato people; /
Our queen will come again with the rains and all will be well.
Nineteen months later the hopeful, haunting prophecy of the Bamangwato women engaged the full and embittered attention of the British House of Commons and was pronounced false, 308 votes to 286. By this majority the Commons decreed that Seretse Khama and his white wife Ruth, who had been banished temporarily from Seretse’s native land for the political indiscretion of their mixed marriage, were now banished finally and forever. In the three-hour debate that preceded the vote it was made clear that Seretse and Ruth would not be permitted to return to Bechuanaland either as rulers or as ordinary members of Seretse’s tribe.
Few decisions of any British government have been made amid such tortured stirrings of the nation’s conscience or such wild contortions among its politicians. Ever since Sept. 29, 1948, when Seretse, then a twenty-seven-year-old law student at Oxford, married Ruth Williams in London’s Kensington Registry Office and announced his intention of taking her to his home in Africa, the average Englishman’s attitude toward them has
been similar to the attitude of the average Bamangwato: a mixture of surprise and protective good will, followed by the overriding conviction that what they had done was their own affair. The Times spoke for most Britons when it called the nation’s treatment of the celebrated DPs “melancholy and distressing.”
The politicians’ reaction, conditioned by a rising ferment of race trouble in South Africa, was much less simple. The Labour Party, which was in power at the time of their marriage, permitted Seretse
and Ruth to make a brief visit to Africa, but later brought them back to London, put Seretse on a sixty-dollar-a-week pension and ordered them to stay away from Seretse’s tribal home for at least five years, at the end of which time a review of the case was promised. The Conservative Party, which was then in Opposition, denounced this edict roundly. Winston Churchill himself called it a “disreputable transaction.” But by last March, when the Conservatives were back in power and Labour was out of power, the position of each party had undergone a startling change. The Tories voted en masse to make Seretse’s exile permanent. Labour voted en masse to leave the question of his ultimate future open. Churchill said nothing during the debate. Patrick Gordon Walker, who as Labour’s Undersecretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs had defended the original ban from the government benches, now rose from the Opposition benches and denounced the extension of the ban as an “unholy mess” whose “net result is that the tribe is getting the complete and total opposite of what they want and have constantly made clear that they want.” These confusing gyrations of policy had a relatively uncomplicated explanation. Neither party, while in power, dared to court the wrath of Daniel Malan, the fiercely race-conscious premier of South Africa. Mixed marriages are prohibited in South Africa and although the British Cabinet denies that Malan’s Government has made any formal representations about the marriage of Seretse and Ruth, a number of South African newspapers have made it clear that the presence on South Africa’s threshold of a white consort to a native chief would
Seretse Khama guessed rightly that the one hundred thousand subjects of his African tribe would not object to his marriage to a blond English girl. But two more powerful governments did object and the Bamangwato chief lives in exile on sixty dollars a week
be tantamount to dangling a detonator over a mass of black human dynamite. Behind every move of two British governments there has been the unacknowledged fear that if the Khamas were permitted to take office as the royal family of the Bamangwato, Malan might find an excuse to annex Bechuanaland and withdraw South Africa from the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile Seretse still maintains that he is the ruler of the forty thousand square miles of plain and forest over which his family has ruled for three quarters of a century. He can only be deposed, he insists, by the hundred thousand members of his tribe and they have already voted overwhelmingly against his deposition. “So long as my people say they want me, I will not give up trying to go home,” he says with the same quiet stubborn dignity that has characterized his long one-sided struggle to return to the protectorate with his wife and their two-year-old daughter. The government has offered him an administrative job in Jamaica which would pay him seven hundred and seventy pounds a year in addition to his special pension of a thousand pounds a year. Seretse says he has no
intention of accepting the job in the West Indies.
Recently the Khamas moved from their dingy fiat in London to a cottage in Surrey. They found themselves among friendly and hospitable neighbors who, like all Englishmen who read the newspapers, already knew them well and found in them much to admire.
FYom the top of his round cropped head to the tips of his outsize shoes Seretse Khama personifies the Negro who has felt the fierce impact of Western civilization without losing his balance. His strong flat features suggest the primeval nobility of an African lion but his manners might have been developed in the Ritz. He still walks with the high-stepping catlike tread of a man used to ranging the bush in a loin cloth and bare feet. But his clothes are of the cut and stuff favored in Savile Row. When he laughs it is the rich liquid mirth of the true African. When he speaks he demonstrates the fluency of an educated European mind. He likes to squat on his haunches and eat a mush of boiled mealies with his simple black subjects. But he also likes a slug of Scotch, a subtle joke and a fast American car.
The wedding of the Khamas took place at Kensington Registry Office on Sept. 29, 1948, when he was twenty-seven and she twenty-five. The dusky groom had graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, and the white bride had come from a stratum of London society rarely represented at that august and exclusive seat of learning.
Ruth Williams, a comely buxom green - eyed blonde, a former wartime corporal in the WAAF, later a bookkeeper for Lloyds of London, is the daughter of a Cockney tea salesman who lives in the crowded middle-class suburb of Lewisham.
The Press treated their marriage as front-page news. Here, flouting all the dangers he knew to be implicit in miscegenation, was the scion of the ancient and illustrious House of Khama; the descendant of chiefs honored and privileged since the days of Victoria; a man educated as one in a million for paternal responsibilities within the well-tried framework of the most successful colonial policy on earth. And here, seeking to be an African queen, was an English working girl who had been reared to expect nothing more exotic than a semidetached house in one of London’s
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great dormitories and a husband who every morning would don his bowler hat, seize his umbrella and catch a red double-decker bus to the city.
The Commonwealth was startled. A Cape Town newspaper described Ruth as a “foolish ignorant girl.” Daniel Malan forbade either of them to sort foot on Union territory. Seretse’s uncle and guardian Tshekedi, regent of the Bamangwato during his nephew’s infancy and schooling, publicly accused him of betraying the tribe. Ruth’s parents wept in sorrow. Many of Ruth’s friends snubbed her in the street. The couple faced scores of slammed doors while house hunting. And millions of newspaper readers predicted they would separate in six weeks.
The story goes back five thousand miles and seventy-five years to Africa. Seretse’s grandfather, Khama 111, bettei known as the Great Khama, forged the Bamangwato out of many small Bantu tribes then roving Bechuanaland. In 1878 he was invaded by freeboAing Boers from the south. Seeking heflp he wrote to Queen Victoria: “Their actions are very cruel. We are like money. They sell us and our children too.” Victoria summoned him to Buckingham Palace and sent five thousand redcoats to kick the Boers out. Then sho made Bechuanaland a British protectorate. The Bamangwato have been loyal British subjects ever since. When the Boers asked the Great Khama if they could help the British develop the Bamangwato reserve he replied icily, “One does not span an ass with an ox in the same yoke.”
Stained Glass and Lion Skins
The Great Khama ruled more than fifty years and did not die until 1923. His son, Sekgoma II, survived him by only two years. Sekgoma’s son was Seretse who was born in the mud-andstraw Bamangwato capital of Serowe in 1921. When Sekgoma died his half brother Tshekedi became regent until Seretse was old enough to reign.
The Bamangwato raise shanky mongrel cattle with huge curved horns and sell the beef to South Africa. Some of the men wear scanty native dress. But most of them wear cast-off Europeren clothing or old uniforms brought back from son-vice in colonial regimenta. The women werer draped cotton dresses with nothing underneath.
Seretse was reared in the big house of the chief. Its furniture, a mixture of Victorian English and Boer traditions, was heavy and depressing. It had rugs made of lion skins sewn together, stiff lace curtains like shrouds md a few staino'd-glass windows to repel the blazing sun.
Seretse played naked in the streets with other children. “I was not encouraged to thrust my position upon them,” he says. “But as I grew older it was constantly instilled into me by Tshekeoli that I was different and one day would have to lo>ok after them as if they were still children.”
Like other boys he spent weeks driving family herds from one water hole to another through the prickly scrub which covers the land like a fuzz. In the bush he lived no differently from the poorest of his people. Back home, however, the big house, a fleet of family cars and his educated relatives gave him a sense of distinction.
Seretse homored his uncle Tshekedi. Under the regency education was spreading; trucks and tools were beginning to aid development; plans were drawn up fo>r a future city that would have sanitation. Tshekedi approved of British native policy.
In 1933, when Seretse was twelve, Tshekedi precipitated a diplomatic incident. A white mechanic, ome Phineas Mackintosh, deflowered such a spectacular number of Bamangwato virgins that Tshekedi, getting no satisfaction from complaints to the District Commissioner, arraigned him before a native court under an acacia tree. He warned Mackintosh that if he did not mend his ways he would be flogged. Mackintosh advanced om Tshekedi with threatening gestures. The surrounding elders, many of whose daughters had lost their worth in the marriage mart, seized him and flogged him.
Some colonial officials regarded this episode as an affront to white supremacy. Vice-Admiral E. R. Evans (later Lord Mountevans) marched into Serowe with a company of marines and several field pieces. He sentenced Tshekedi to two months’ exile. There was a storm of protest in the British Press and King George V immediately reinstated him.
This incident had a profound effect on Seretse. He realized there was some justice in the world for the native. His admiration for Britain grew.
In 1935, on the embittered protest of Tshekedi, the British parliament flatly rejected a South African proposal that Bechuanaland should be incorporated in the Union. Seret soremembers his relief because he had heard many grim stories of the treatment of natives over the border. He grew up with the idea that in Britain were many friends of the Bamangwato and in South Africa many enemies.
During the war Seretse matriculated at Lovedale College, a missionary boarding school for the sons of chiefs and their families in Cape Province. He got his BA at Fort Hare, a small native college of Rose University, near East London, South Africa. In 1947 Tshekedi sent him to Ballio! College, Oxford, to study law.
For the first time in his life Seretse associated freely with whites. Color prejudice seemed remarkably rare among the undergraduates. Occasionally they ragged him good-naturedly about being an African chief. But they never hurt his feelings. In fact they sharpened his sense of humor. Seretse learned to drink beer in the old inns and became a deft darts thrower. He wore flannel trousers, tweed coats with leather patch sleeves and long flowing scarves in college colors. He was invited to dances and found English girl students were pleased to partner him.
Once, when asked by fellow students to join in a college escapade, he refused. “It might reflect disgrace on my people,” he said. He was beginning to develop the shrewdness of the West. And he was using it to the advantage of his own people.
From Balliol, early in 1948, he went up to London to read for the Bar at the Inns of Court. One day he went to a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society to be introduced to a missionary who was going out to Bechuanaland. There he met Ruth Williams’ sister, who was interested in missionary work. Later Ruth Williams, out of curiosity, went with her sister to a hostel frequented by Negro students from all over the Commonwealth. She was introduced to Seretse.
Ruth had never spoken to a Negro in her life before this, but she had seen many of them in the RAF during the war. She and Seretse began having weekly dates. Sometimes they would go to a show and sometimes to a pub. The odd person scowled at them. But Ruth is a woman of strong character. In Seretse she had found a man superior in thought and poise to those she normally met within her own race.
In Ruth Seretse found an intellectual stimulus he could not expect from even the high-born Bamangwato women already competing for his hand in Africa. They fell in love.
Seretse says they both wrestled with their consciences before deciding to get married. They knew a wedding would cause a furore but came to the conclusion that it could not harm anybody but themselves. Certainly not the Bamangwato, nor the House of Khama “It is laid down in tribal traditions,” says Seretse, “that the heir to the chieftainship should be the son of a chief and his lawful wife. It does not matter who the wife is or from where J she comes. The important parent is the father. There is no reason at all why my own future heir should not be born of a white woman.”
Seretse explained to Ruth that the duties of chief’s wife in Bechuanaland did not involve laying foundation stones, opening bazaars or kissing babies. She would be expected to help the women of the tribe improve their standards of housewifery and mothercraft and she would intercede on behalf of the women whenever their interests were at stake. She would, in fact, be a matriarch. Their home would compare with European standards of comfort.
Seretse told her she would probably be ostracized at first by the white population of Bechuanaland. She would not be allowed to enter hotels, stores, clubs and cinemas reserved for the whites. She might, of course, eventually win them over. But this would be a long uphill fight. Ruth said she didn’t care.
They began looking for an apartment in London. They were turned down time and again as soon as landlords saw the color of Seretse’s skin. Sometimes their rejection was bluntly rude. Eventually they found a little furnished room in Finsbury Park, North London. They then looked around for someone to marry them. Both had been brought up as Anglicans. They wanted to marry in the Church of England. But every clergyman they approached refused. In the end they arranged the civil ceremony at Kensington Registry Office.
Seretse cabled his Uncle Tshekedi of his intention. Tshekedi ordered him to cancel the wedding. Whereupon Seretse advanced the date several days to Sept. 29, 1948. Ruth didn’t tell her parents until the knot had been tied.
At first the Bamangwato, under Tshekedi’s influence, denounced the marriage. Then a curious thing happened. Many elders interpreted Tshekedi’s stand against Seretse as the reflection of a secret ambition to secure the permanent chieftainship for himself and his sons. Whether this is true or not—and Seretse himself thinks it is untrue—by the summer of 1949 the Bamangwato had become covertly hostile to Tshekedi.
In the summer of 1949, in response to a summons from Tshekedi, Seretse flew alone to Bechuanaland. The papers announced that he was “going to face the music.” In fact he was ready to strike the first blow in a cause that had already taken shape in his mind. He headed for Serowe, capital of the Bamangwato reserve, now the home of thirty thousand Africans and the biggest native village south of the equator.
Here, under the shade of the gnarled acacia trees which twist up in the heat haze from the parched undulating camelthorn scrub of the surrounding African hinterland, six thousand elders of Seretse’s tribe, in tattered European clothing, gathered to decide whether he was fit to rule. At the head of them stood the regent Tshekedi, his bleak
black face stony with disapproval, his heart set implacably against this young kinsman who had so boldly defied white opinion.
Tshekedi knew he had the mute support of the whole fabric of British colonial administration from the local District Commissioner through the Resident Commissioner in Mafeking, the High Commissioner in Pretoria, the i Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in London. Seretse had no backing but his lineage, and in this he displayed the quiet confidence of a man who knew it was almost sacred to his people.
The great palaver was opened by District Commissioner Victor Ellen\ berger, who appealed for calm and dignity. Then Tshekedi began a long and impassioned harangue in which he j said Seretse had forfeited his right to j the chieftainship by his unprecedented I marriage to a white woman.
About seventy European residents of Serowe — engineers, traders, doctors, missionaries and the like—had an opportunity to study Seretse as he sat, waiting with an air of quiet detachment for His turn to speak.
Seretse Slapped His Thigh
There was a hush of expectancy as Tshekedi sat down and Seretse stepped forward. He spoke at first quietly, then firmly, then emotionally. His face set and he raised his right hand.
“Stand up!” he cried, “stand up those who will not accept my white ! wife!”
One or two elders sprang defiantly to their feet. A few more glanced around uneasily then rose hesitantly to join them. Quickly Seretse counted.
“Forty!” he shouted scornfully. “Only forty! Now stand up those who want my wife and me!”
Nearly six thousand arose in a brown cloud of dust, applauded thunderously for ten minutes, and chanted, “Seretse! Seretse! Heart of Our Red Earth, Seretse!”
The young chief slapped his thigh triumphantly. Then he turned with I a challenging look to his uncle. What he saw brought tears to his eyes.
! Tshekedi had cherished Seretse since i infancy and during the last twenty-two ! years diligently cared for his nephew’s domain. With nothing but bullock ¡ haulage and human sweat Tshekedi ! had built schools, clinics, tribal offices j and roads. He had sent young men j and women into civilization to train as doctors, nurses, teachers and clerks. He had proudly dispatched one of his own soldier sons to represent Seretse at King George’s side during the victory parade.
Tshekedi was so devoted to progress that he had divorced a much-loved wife because she had shamed the family by reverting to primitive practices of witchcraft. He had introduced strains of Herefordshire cattle which had much improved the Bamangwato herds. No licker of the white man’s boots he had survived the flogging of the Scottish mechanic.
It was Tshekedi who had designed the very reforms which gave this tribal council the voice of authority. But he did not think it timely or seemly for a black man to marry a white woman. Now he heard his arguments rejected and the act of his protege not I merely condoned hut lauded.
I Tshekedi was stunned. For a mo! ment he stood in incredulous silence. Then he lost control of himself. “I was ready,” he cried, “to hand Seretse ! the chief’s chair and all my rights. But ! if he persists in bringing his white wife ; to Africa I shall fight him to the end.” j Suddenly he covered his eyes with his i arm and sobbed: “This child has hurt
me. And now 1 am hurting him. My time has come to go.” With a handful of followers he went into voluntary exile outside the reserve.
It was an imperishable moment in the history of the Bamangwato. It was a moment Seretse will never forget. It was at this moment that he resisted the poignant tugs of family sentiment and set his course into the uncharted future of the new Africa, the Africa of his dreams, the Africa in which he sees black men and white living in equality and in such fraternity that the mingling of blood will raise neither hostility nor obstruction.
He says he was filled with a sense of duty toward his people. He believed that the presence of Ruth would help rather than hinder him in his role of twentieth - century chief. Since the elders had accepted him he expected their decision would be honored by the British government.
He brought Ruth out to Africa to share his responsibilities. To avoid reporters she traveled as Mrs. Jones. So that she could acclimatize herself gradually they lived with white friends of Seretse’s. Their first host was Mrs. Tom Shaw, a store owner. Later they lived with Mr. and Mrs. Alan Bradshaw, labor agents for the Rand diamond mines, at Palapye, a railhead forty miles from Serowe.
Down in South Africa the supporters of Daniel Malan let it be known that they regarded the presence of a “white queen” on their northern border as injurious to native policy. There were editorials in South African papers threatening that Bechuanaland would be annexed by the Union if Seretse and his wife were permitted to remain in office. If South Africa did seize Bechuanaland, said some papers, she would have no alternative but to secede from the British Commonwealth of Nations.
This, of course, might have brought about the collapse of the British Labour Government of that time. Patrick Gordon Walker, Labour Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, bought breathing space by appointing a judicial enquiry to report: “Whether the tribal council held at Serowe, at which Seretse Khama was designated as chief, was properly convened and its proceedings conducted in accordance with native custom; and whether, having regard to the interests and wellbeing of the tribe, Seretse Khama is a fit and proper person to discharge the functions of chief.”
Meanwhile the tribe had welcomed Ruth. Her arrival, in August 1949, coincided with the best rainfall in years and they dubbed her “the Rain Queen.”
The couple began to feel out the reaction of Bechuanaland’s whites. At Palapye there is a hotel. Seretse had always been barred from its precincts but, in deference to his position, he had often been served with a glass of beer through one of the windows. At the same time he had talked over the sill to the people inside with the privileged candor of a regimental sergeant-major who has been given “a quiet one” at the back of the officers’ mess. One night in August, however, when the hotel was showing a movie called Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, a new eggshell-blue Ghevrolet churned to a stop outside. Out stepped Seretse wearing a neat blue pin-stripe suit and Ruth, in a saxe-blue sweater and black two-piece outfit.
Holding hands they slipped into the darkened dining room and took two chairs alongside the projector at the back. A group of traders and their wives nudged each other. The news that the Khamas were in the room was whispered around. Lon Chaney lost his grip on the audience. When the show was over the astonished whites
watched Seretse, looking grim, and Ruth, smiling serenely, depart in their car.
“Well,” said one woman, “that just about beats everything.”
A few days later, at Serowe, when the white men in shirts and shorts and topees, and their women, in slick flowered frocks and picture hats, were lolling round a game of cricket at the Recreation Club, they were surprised once more to see Seretse and Ruth hovering about on the other side of the field.
One woman murmured: “Poor little thing. She must be very lonely.” The local garage proprietor said: “It gives you a bit of a shock to see them walking around together like that. But he’s a nice chap really. I cannot see that the setup is wrong. Honestly I can’t.” No one, however, had the nerve to break a century of tradition by going over to greet them. After a few minutes they walked away, Seretse sadly, Ruth smiling bravely.
An Uproar in the Commons
Later hundreds of Bamangwato women filed past Ruth as she sat in a deck chair under the shade of an acacia tree at Palapye. Each woman carried on her head a pail of water or a basket of corn. They then circled her, faster and faster, shrilling out a song. Suddenly they all stopped, rushed up to her, knelt, and placed the water and corn at her feet. A spokeswoman said: “You are the
mother of us all.”
Through the window of the Bradshaw bungalow, a few yards away, Seretse Khama beamed proudly. Then, to the amazement of the Bamangwato women, he went on washing the dinner dishes, a courtesy he had learned from white husbands in England.
In March 1950, when whites and blacks in Bechuanaland were getting used to the K hamas, Seretse received a summons to London. The reasons for this call were not specified. The tribal elders pleaded with him not to go. “You will be tricked,” they said. Ruth refused to accompany him. “I had a premonition they were going to keep him there,” she says. She was expecting her child anyhow and, in case it was a boy, she was determined to secure its eligibility for the chieftainship by bearing it on Bamangwato soil. Seretse decided it was advisable to go to London. He went alone.
A few days after his arrival he was asked by Patrick Gordon Walker to relinquish his claims to the chieftainship. He refused indignantly. He maintained that he could not do it even if he wanted to, since abdication was a purely Western custom. As long as he breathed he would be chief in the eyes of his people; to them hereditary rule was inalienable. Whereupon he was informed that he would be exiled. This decision, it was explained, was based on the findings of the judicial enquiry. Exactly what those findings were nobody knows to this day. But they were so embarrassing to the Labour Government that the report was suppressed.
In the House of Gommons there was an uproar.
The Times thundered: “They will
not easily persuade public opinion, which has righteously been aroused, that the divergence in racial attitude between the Union and the British territories can best be met by appeasement at cost of personal injustice. They will have a heavy task to prove that Seretse’s exclusion will not do much more damage than his recognition.”
A Labour MP pointed out that mixed marriages, though unlawful in South
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I Africa, had never been illegal in the British protectorates. The government was therefore acting unconstitutionally in applying to its own territories the laws of an outsider.
The government defended itself by promising to review Seretse’s case within five years, permitting him to return to Africa for the birth of his j child, giving him sixty dollars a week : during exile and printing a white paper in which it pleaded, without conviction, that its decision was not based on ; racial grounds.
Seretse returned briefly to Africa for j the birth of his daughter Jacqueline.
When she was three months old in j August 1950 the family was flown back j to England by the RÀF. i For the first time in Bamangwato ; history the women of the tribe voiced j an opinion. More than two thousand gathered to hear a spokeswoman, Rantshabo, say: “Since Seretse went away even the goats cry all night. We are a dead people.”
The town crier of Serowe, shambling through the dust between the mud huts ; in his ragged jacket and pants, fixed ! I with a baleful eye the passing crowds.
Then he waved his wand of office and j shouted: “This special what I say.
! The Imperial Government has torn out our eye!”
The Bamangwato went under the direct rule of the local district commissioner. They began a series of riots so ugly that the mounted native police under white officers had great difficulty in restoring order.
In London Seretse started fighting back. Eight hundred students from throughout the Commonwealth gathered to hear him speak at Denison House in Kensington. He mounted the j rostrum and said: “I have been
banished because I dared to love and ! accept the love of a white woman.” Then he faltered and raised a handkerchief to his forehead. He muttered ¡ a few words of apology and left the I stage shaking with grief. The rafters ! shook with a great roar of “Shame!”
He began issuing a series of official j statements. They were couched in diplomatic terms beginning with such j phrases as: “With increasing anxiety
j and pain I have been closely following the sad and serious events that are j I taking place in my country ... I deeply regret the recent disorders . . .”
In the past two years Seretse has ! addressed meetings all over the United Kingdom. At the London School of I Economics last January many pro| fessors and students crowding to hear him were turned away because the hall was full. The sixty dollars a week paid him by the British government, and much of his own private income from Beehuanaland herds, goes in traveling J expenses, publicity and a press officer’s ! fees. Recently he has accepted fees i for speaking to enable him to continue ! the fight more vigorously.
He sticks to racial topics and his own I case. Last fall a Labour MP asked j him to address a left-wing rally in j Trafalgar Square. Seretse, who is far ; from left-wing, refused. Among his ' supporters, however, is the Socialist MP Tom Driberg. Others are the Liberal candidate Gerald Sampson and I the young Conservative Lord Hailj sham.
The British, who dearly love an underdog when he shows fight, have I taken him to their hearts. In London he is often recognized by people in the !
I street and given an encouraging wave.
Ruth’s parents have become reconciled I ! to the marriage and visit the Khama home frequently. Last summer Uncle , Tshekedi flew to London bringing pres; ents for Jacqueline and Ruth, and an olive branch for Seretse. In the neigh-
borihood pubs Seretse is a favorite customer.
I visited the Khamas recently in London.
Their apartment in Regent’s Park was over a newspaper, tobacco and candy store in a down-at-heels street. Although he has had no trouble about getting a home since the publicity of his exile, costs have been such that he finds low rent convenient. To reach t he living room guests had to squeeze past a huge refrigerator parked in the downstairs hall because there was no room for it elsewhere. They stumbled up i narrow staircase over a litter of teddy bears, rubber dolls and plastic ducks. Then they proceeded along a landing which must have creaked in Victoria’s days, hurdling en route a rocking horse, a dolls’ carriage and a tricycle.
Inside there were no native drums, ivoiy carvings, or elephants’ feet to distinguish this African home in exile from the abode of an average Cockney clerk. On the wall, however, was a big colored photograph of the Great Khama in Guards uniform.
Nothing to Lean On
Seretse is a genial host. He serves generous shots of Scotch and is forever jumping up for the cigarette box. He fixes his callers with an even, steady eye and rapidly cools if they fail to acknowledge the dignity of his rank. Ruth calls him “Chief” pointedly until guests have taken up her cue. Then she reverts to the traditional English “darling.”
“The institution of chieftainship is still strong in Bechuanaland,” he says. “Nobody can take away the chief’s rights but God. The chief is the fulcrum of their whole social, economic and political pattern. Through the chief, reforms can be more easily carried out than through other types of administration which they do not understand. If you don’t use existing forms of government to approach them the Bamangwato become suspicious. The British government has always administered the Bamangwato through t he chief.”
Seretse says that in South Africa detribalization has robbed Negroes of the paternal protection of the chief. The result is a dangerous psychological vacuum. The people have no one to turn to, nothing to lean on. They are exploited, reduced to slums, and exposed to Communist influences.
Asked about the effects of his white wife on native life Seretse denies that she can be injurious. “Enquiries by the British government itself have shown,” he says, “that only one in a hundred of my people is opposed to her. Therefore I do not believe her presence can do any harm. Riots tend to show that it is now, during our exile, that, the real trouble arises.”
Seretse knows the Union of South Africa could take over Bechuanaland in twenty-four hours if it dared to risk world opinion. That, of course would be a calamity for him. He is therefore very careful when he approaches the truth about his exile. Warily he says: “If the British government were to take into consideration solely the wishes of my people I should already be back in the reserve with my family. 11 would appear therefore that the only possible reason for my continued exclusion is because the British government is considering other opinions thought to be of greater importance than those of the Bamangwato.”
Early this year, in high glee, Seretse Khama answered a call from Lord Ismay, then Conservative Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, now the new chairman of NATO. He believed the new Churchill regime was
going to reverse the decision of its Labour predecessor. Ismay, however, merely told Seretse that his case had not been forgotten. He promised nothing beyond a review within the next three years.
The disappointment flung Seretse into one of his periodic fits of depression. “Sometimes,” says Ruth, “he just sits in front of the fire warming his hands and brooding. He suffers from lumbago because of the climate. Much as 1 love him—more than the day we were married—I cannot move him when he gets into one of his black
moods. There is absolutely nothing will snap him out of it.”
Many friends believe» that Seretse Khama married Ruth Williams as a challenge to South African opinion. Seretse denies this. “Nor did 1 marry her,” he says, “to test the integrity of British colonial policy. 1 married her for love. 1 am entitled to the consort, of my choice no less than I am entitled to the chieftainship of the Bamangwato. I shall never give up one for the other.”
Recently Seretse looked up at the picture on the wall of his grandfather,
the Great Khama, and said: “I am
intensely proud of my family tradition and our long connection with the British Commonwealth. All in the Commonwealth, white and colored, should be striving for the same end. All I ask is to be allowed to make my contribution to this joint effort. The cordial relations between Britain and her Asiatic and African friends, who form by far the majority of the Commonwealth people, will suffer great harm if the wrongs that have been inflicted on my family and myself are not redressed.” if