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The source of what would become Botswana’s groaning pains took place in the United Kingdom nearly 70 years ago. While the interracial liaisons were unheard of in the first half of the twentieth century, a son of the Gammangwato throne was enchanted by a white British bank clerk named Ruth Williams. It had been widely and intentionally spread that Seretse Khama was the Prince of the Bechuanaland Protectorate with his great-grandfather; Khama III catapulted to fame among other tribal leaders, for example, Kgosi Sechele of Bakwena. As a result of this special relationship with the colonialists, Khama was regarded with suspicion by other dikgosi. But it was the bloodline of Khama III, also known as “The Great” that was well known to the British colonialists that made Sir Seretse extremely popular during his studies at the University of Oxford.
The romantic relationship was sanctioned somewhat by the British because their daughter, after all, had not done badly by marrying beneath her race – from a protectorate, as far as the status-conscious Britons believed, Ruth was enjoined in holy matrimony with the future King of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It would make Lady Ruth step up into the seat of Her Majesty the Queen-mother, their children would naturally become princes (Ian, Anthony, and Tshekedi) and princess (Jacqueline) who will be entitled to rule Botswana eternally, much the same as the British monarchy is held in magical awe.
This was the misunderstanding of the interracial marriage between Rra and Mma Jacqueline in 1948 before Sir Seretse was banished to support the apartheid South Africa that barred interracial relationships. This misconception of the Khamas as monarchs in Bechuanaland Protectorate has stood the test of time even after the nation had transformed into a republican democracy. And 52 years later, any effort to correct this historical delusion is haunting the general population, even creating a schism across a nation that has never been divided in its history. It would be foolhardy to ignore that there are those who are still spellbound by the mention of the Khama name and would kill for it if they felt members of the dynasty were not accorded the right place at the high table. The social media, in particular, Facebook, shows these divisions most frighteningly.
Botswana is polarized over these deep-seated beliefs of entitlements by the Khama family, albeit a constitutional republic that has always been governed by adhering to the respect for the rule of law, which earned the nation accolades over the decades of her independence as “a beacon of hope”, “a shining example of democracy”, “the jewel of Africa”, and “a success story across a landscape of despair and misery” that Africa is known to be.
If for a second; the school of thought about undue expectations of entitlements by the Khama family was to be held suspect, just check out the 2016 movie titled, “A United Kingdom” in which the portrayal of a country that owes its debt to one family is made clear. The Bechuanaland King in Sir Seretse has overcome obstacles to entrench himself as the ruler of the imagined kingdom alongside a white queen who bore Botswana heirs to the throne once their father had departed this earth.
“As far as I know, the capital of Botswana is Serowe and Palapye is where we went to town to pick groceries and catch the train to the north or south,” an elderly woman of Ikalanga heritage sheds light.
The historical depiction, therefore, should help us put into context the ramblings by Member of Parliament Prince Maele about offering his life in the place of former president Ian Khama’s. Maele should be understood to come from this backdrop where the social stratification of Botswana was designed by colonialists in such a manner that put the Khama family at the apex. Is this bolope? No, this is bolatswathipa. There is a distinction between the two. The latter seeks to impress someone when there is no chance of bearing any pressure on the leader by way of tendering advice, whereas lelope is strategically placed to advise and his opinion is trusted. Maele is at the total mercy of the one he is praising and on the other hand, he is predisposed to those who voted him into power because if they don’t resonate with his sentiment, he bit the bullet when more than once in his utterances, he voluntarily and without any provocation, told them to withhold their vote if they did not glorify his master. Surely, he went overboard in his ramblings and succeeded only in ridiculing himself, rather than those targeted by his cheap rhetoric.
But that is what the English tradition of feudalism that was popular in the medieval period (ninth to about 15th century) taught human beings – there were layers of people: the nobles, the aristocrats and the peasants in that descending order. Those at the bottom ought to defer without a doubt or question because they farmed the land that did not belong to them. This is why Maele uses the expression “mong wame” or other would go farther to say “mong wa mmu”. While England has marvellously guarded against the erosion of this tradition, there had been major reconfigurations of how society in contemporary times views human relationships. Yes, the British monarch still commands and earns immeasurable respect from within and across the Commonwealth nations, and even nations that are not member states of this Queen’s club are fascinated by how the Buckingham Palace affairs are run. It is true that the monarchy sits at number one spot among the attractions for travellers flocking into England. The number of tourists on a daily basis milling in front of the palace just to snap the magnificent architectural landmark is mind-blowing! Catching a distant glimpse of one member of the royal house is a huge bonus for these visitors as they treasure such memories to recount back in their home countries.
Thus significant revenue in the national pie generated by the monarchs earns them a special place, and one does not struggle to see their influence. With two royal weddings (Harry and Meghan in May) and Eugenie and Jack in October, enthusiasts from across the globe travelled to England while many millions were glued to their television screens to marvel at the extraordinary events. Even with so much respect for the monarchy, Eugenie, who is seen as ninth in line to the throne and unlikely to ever come near it in a lifetime – received lots of criticism and her wedding caught controversy. It was estimated that two million pounds (BWP 30 million) went to policing and security during the affair, sparking a demonstration and a signed petition on the eve of the wedding on Friday the 12th October by more than 46, 000 Englishmen and women. This is happening in a monarchy where the final voice is that of the Queen! Prince Andrew, just like Prince Charles – is the son of the Queen. But as it is, the likely successors are in this order: Prince Charles, Prince William, (Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – all Prince William’s children) Prince Harry and his unborn baby. Not only was there a public outcry about huge bills passed to the taxpayers because of the Royals’ affairs; the taxpayer-funded British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that beamed the May wedding to the rest of the world, flatly refused to cover the latest event. Bowing down to fellow human beings is not practical – one wonders just how Maele imagines it so simple for him to do. This is why his utterances make only cheap rhetoric and are devoid of substance except to appease the master.
In fact, Maele could be pardoned for stating that when all else had failed Khama and he is the last man standing, he too, will deny him. More than once, he states this truth. “I will be the last man to deny you.” Maele sees there is a probability, insignificant as he might treat it, he knows it is there for him to consider. He sounds astonished though, that others have denied his master already and are subversive much like the disciples who deserted Jesus Christ in the hour of need. Was Christ blameworthy? Isn’t he the Sacrificial Lamb that bore no blemish, or which bible does Maele read from? In drawing similarities between Jesus and Khama, should we understand that during the splendid three-and-half years of working under him, this leader was as blameless as the Lamb of God? Maele’s sentiments are reminiscent of the habitual person who litters the ‘All parties conference Facebook page’ with pictures of the Khama family members and referring to them as ‘real sons of God’. This is blasphemous! Listening to the video clip in which he glorifies Khama - could this be Maele hiding behind a pseudonym?
But Maele’s ramblings have brought out into the open the thrust of this paper that the Khama family cherishes a system in which the basis of relationships is between lord and vassal. Ian Khama got his attitude propped up by the utterances so much he took to his timeline and prefaced the video with the words: “I thought it would be great to share snippets from yesterday’s event at Goo-Moremi; here Hon Prince Maele was giving thank you remarks!” Not to take away from the occasion, nothing could have been of more interest than the off-tangent remarks as far as Khama is concerned! Where is the greatness in self-demeaning ramblings when an adult, a popularly elected leader, and a family head reduces himself to the level of a blind follower and subservient subject of his master, who is not swayed by any circumstances? What is enchanting Khama in this video – and why does he think it would enthral the rest of us? This attitude, coming from a man who does now bow down to anyone is quite telling. Ian Khama should have modelled to the rest of us that all people are equal after his father captivated the heart of a white woman when it was unheard of. Should we be surprised that a man who preaches democracy espouses feudalism?