Se Ke Seromamowa Sa Botswana

Death of a President

In 1923, when he was three, Seretse Khama inherited the leadership of the Bamangwato people (one of the main Batswana tribes) after his grandfather and father both died within two years of each other. After his accession in 1950, he caused a furore by marrying a white English woman, Ruth, during his law studies in London. The racist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia objected violently and the tribe was none too pleased either. Seretse was forced to stand down as Chief of the Ngwato, and he was held in exile in the UK until 1956.
20 cent stamp picture of Seretse Khama When he finally returned to Bechuanaland (as it was then), Seretse pressed for change. In the early 1960s he founded the Botswana Democratic Party, with policies which retained traditional influence but sought modern democratic independence from Britain, under whose "protection" the country had languished for the past eighty years. In 1965 the BDP overwhelmingly won pre-independence elections, and in 1966 Seretse Khama was sworn in as President of the new, non-racial Republic of Botswana. Britain gave him a knighthood and his wife - the English typist - became Lady Ruth Khama.

Over the next decade President Sir Seretse Khama steered his country along a precarious tightrope as one of the "front-line" states. He was one of the main architects of SADCC - the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference. Just as it was beginning to take shape in 1980, he died. The country was devastated. He was only 59.

I can remember the morning the death was announced. We'd been expecting it for some time and went to bed the night before knowing that the end was likely to come within the next 24 hours. At 5 am I was awakened by a call from the Minister of Public Service and Information, Daniel Kwelagobe, who'd been up all night at State House. It then fell to me to tell the world officially, which I did by dashing into Radio Botswana and composing a telex to the BBC's World Service newsroom. (Actually, I phoned them first, but they wanted written confirmation). Twenty minutes later, I heard the sombre headline at the top of the World Service bulletin.

Daily News eulogy page 3/4
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Daily News eulogy page 1
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Daily News eulogy page 2
Click for funeral picture
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Sir Seretse died just as we were about to return to the UK for three months' leave. We'd already twice extended our second tour of duty past the official limits and everyone insisted that we go home despite the awful news. As a result this eulogy from the Daily News contains the only picture I have of the funeral. It was held at Serowe, the Bamangwato capital - Seretse Khama was buried with his ancestors.

Dr. Quett Masire, the Vice-President, succeeded to the Presidency. A few years later a memorial statue of President Khama was erected in front of the National Assembly. I've never actually seen this statue because it was completed after I left, but here's a picture of it. It's about 200 metres from Radio Botswana's front gate. Statue of Seretse Khama

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