Sir Seretse Khama: The Nationalist Hero

Fit To Rule

Seretse Khama returned to Britain to continue with his law studies, but was met with a Parliamentary investigation into his suitability for the chieftaincy -- whilst Bechuanaland was under its protection, Britain claimed the right to ratify any succession. Unfortunately for the government, the investigation's report concluded that Seretse was "eminently fit to rule" -- it was kept suppressed for thirty years. Seretse and his wife were banished him from Bechuanaland in 1950.

Nationalist Hero

Under international pressure for its apparent racism, Britain relented and allowed Seretse Khama and his wife to return to Bechuanaland in 1956, but only if both he and his uncle renounced their claim to the chieftaincy. What hadn't been expected was the political acclaim that six years exile had given him back home -- Seretse Khama was acclaimed as a nationalist hero. In 1962 Seretse founded the Bechuanaland Democratic Party and campaigned for multi-racial reform.

Elected Prime Minister

High on Seretse Khama's agenda was a need for democratic self-government, and he pushed the British authorities hard for independence. In 1965 the center of Bechuanaland government was moved from Mafikeng, in South Africa, to the newly established capital of Gaborone – and Seretse Khama was elected as Prime Minister. When the country achieved independence on 30 September 1966, Seretse became the first president of the Republic of Botswana. He was re-elected twice and died in office in 1980.

President of Botswana

"We stand virtually alone in our belief that a non-racial society can work now, but there are those .. who will be only too delighted to see our experiment fail."

Seretse Khama used his influence with the country's various ethnic groups and traditional chiefs to create a strong, democratic government. During his rule Botswana had the most rapidly growing economy of the world (remember it started very low) and the discovery of diamond deposits allowed the government to finance the creation of a new social infrastructure. The country's second major export resource, beef, allowed for the development of wealthy entrepreneurs.

Whilst in power Seretse Khama refused to allow neighbouring liberation movements to establish camps in Botswana, but permitted transit to camps in Zambia -- this resulted in several raids from South Africa and Rhodesia. He also played a prominent role in the negotiated transition from White minority rule in Rhodesia to multi-racial rule in Zimbabwe. He was also a key negotiant in the creation of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) which was launched in April 1980, shortly before his death.

On 13 July 1980 Seretse Khama died in office of pancreatic cancer. Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, his vice president, took office and served (with re-election) until March 1998.

Since Seretse Khama's death, Batswanan politicians and cattle barons have begun to dominate the country's economy, to the detriment of the working classes. The situation is more serious for the minority Bushman peoples (Basarwa Herero, etc) which form only 6% of the country's population, with pressure for land around the Okavango Delta increasing as cattle ranchers and miners move in.

This biography was retrieved from

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