This President’s Day weekend we continue to explore the legacy of our first President, Sir Seretse Khama, with reference to some of those who mentored and supported him.
We left off last week in 1930 with Seretse’s guardian uncle and regent overcoming the British Resident Commissioner Charles Rey’s objections to enrolling his nephew for his higher primary education at Lovedale in the Eastern Cape, where Seretse’s father Sekgoma, as well as Tshekedi, had been previously educated at the insistence of their father, Kgosi Khama III.
Tshekedi’s obsession with Seretse’s education was further reflected in such details as his insistence that his nephew dine at table 14, where the conversation was in English, as well as his provision for private tuition in music. But perhaps his most consequential step was to have his nephew’s progress monitored and mentored by his lifelong confident Zachariah Keodirelang “ZK”” Matthews.
The relationship between Seretse and ZK blossomed from 1940 when the former returned to Lovedale to complete his secondary education, following studies at Adams College in Kwazulu-Natal and Tiger Kloof in the Northern Cape. Professor Matthews was by then the Deputy Principal of nearby Fort Hare University.
Seretse’s earlier transfer from Lovedale to Adams had been on account of health considerations, while his subsequent Tiger Kloof attendance had been out of his own desire to be with other Batswana, notably including his homeboys Serogola Lekhutile, Gaoreng Mosinyi and Lenyeletse Seretse.
Although Tshekedi then considered Tiger Kloof to be a step down from his nephew’s previous schools, he gave in. On hindsight Seretse’s time there (1936-39) coincided with what was part of the school’s golden age in terms of both its balanced programme of academic and practical subjects and the quality of it students, many of whom would go on to become a who’s who of local nation builders.
For his part, during the 1940s ZK became a father figure for a whole generation of future leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Robert Sobukwe among many others. But Seretse was always special to him on account of his pedigree as well as pleasant personality.
The son of a Mongwato mineworker from Serowe, ZK Matthews was born at Winter’s Rush, near Kimberly, in 1901. Although he thereafter lived virtually all of his life away from his father’s people, mostly in South Africa but also in Britain and the USA, he never turned his back on his parent’s roots. Thus, in 1958, he took the trouble to confirm the Bammangwato Reserve in the then Bechuanaland Protectorate as his place of permanent residence, ensuring his Botswana citizenship at independence.
Despite being the son of a humble miner, ZK through his academic brilliance had also attended Lovedale on a bursary, going on to become the University of Fort Hare first graduate. After also becoming the first black Southern African to obtain a law degree, by 1925 he was the Principal of Adams College.
Tshekedi met ZK in 1917 when he, accompanied by Peter Sebina, also joined by his cousin the future Kgosi Bathoen II of Bangwaketse, arrived at Lovedale. ZK forged an enduring relationship with the Bechuanaland trio, notwithstanding the fact he was four years older and several classes ahead of Tshekedi. Their initial introduction was not a coincidence, as the latter would later recall:
“When I was a student at Lovedale, a young man named Tshekedi, son of the great Christian Chief Khama of the Bamangwato, was brought to the school by a group of elders. They sought me out. ‘Remember’ they told me, ‘he will be your chief. One day we expect you to come back home.’
“I was very moved. My friendship with Tshekedi lasted through the years and in 1937 I did go, for the first time, to his capital at Serowe. All the warm talk of my childhood came back and I felt like a wanderer come home. Yet by that time I had become, in the degree of my education, more European than most Europeans. I knew that there was no answer turning the clock back. But I knew to look forward did not mean to reject everything contained in the past.”
It is doubtful whether Khama III would have fully approved of the actions of Tshekedi’s escorts. Before their departure he had emphasised the Setswana proverb that: “when an elephant crosses a river (i.e. border) it is smaller.”
Tshekedi’s own time at Lovedale ended prematurely when students rioted in August 1921 against the poor food they claimed they were receiving. Tshekedi supported the rioters, supposedly saying that “as the son of a brave chief and leader of a big tribe he would be regarded as a coward who left his people in trouble if he himself remained free.”’ The school was closed down, with some students being arrested by the police. Tshekedi, quite unfairly preceded by Sebina due to a previous incident, was expelled, to the shock and disappointment of his father.