When the three Batswana dikgosi visited British in 1885, all eyes were Khama III, whom most thought was senior to Sebele I and Bathoen I. As Neil Parsons writes in “King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen”, the “Manchester Guardian” suggested that Khama – and not his fellow dikgosi, should be made a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George” and a female journalist from the “Christian World” found the Bangwato kgosi to be “of a remarkably fine type.” Today, the latter description would be shortened to “sexy.”
When the dikgosi stopped off at George Edwards Wright & Co Manufacturing in London to buy suitcases, the ingenious shopkeeper got them to plug for his business by appending their signatures to a testimonial that the Botswana National Archives and Records Services has, more than a century later, digitally reproduced as an enlarged wall mural.
“We, the undersigned, having visited your showrooms and purchased some goods, say we are pleased with everything there, and we subscribe our names as friends and customers of your firm. Signed by the Chiefs and King of Bechuanaland this day. Nov. 19th 1895,” the testimonial reads.
At this point in time, “Khama the Good” was known internationally, having been popularised by the London Missionary Society. Nationally, he was also a towering political figure and in years to come, his descendants would inherit that legacy.
Through continual dueling with the colonial government and mostly effective leadership, his son, Tshekedi, made the Khama name even more prominent nationally. Towards the end of Tshekedi’s tumultuous regency, the heir apparent, Seretse, Khama’s grandson, had also made a name for himself and his family internationally. Seretse started and ultimately won his own fight with the colonial government over his choice of spouse, a white woman called Ruth Williams.
When he went into politics, Seretse, was already very well-known internationally and would go on to become Botswana’s founding president. That put him in a very good position to appoint his first-born son, Ian, as the Deputy Commander of the Botswana Defence Force. At the time of his retirement from the army in 1998, Ian held the rank of Lieutenant General and had been commander for 10 years. A day after retiring, Ian showed up at the Office of the President to start work as Vice President to President Festus Mogae. On account of the automatic succession provision in the Constitution, Ian became president in 2008 and only stepped down in 2018. His brother remained behind in Masisi’s cabinet but would be dropped the following year. The latter development marked the first time since 1875 that a Khama was not part of Botswana national executive leadership.
The worst was yet to happen and was a direct result of Gen. Khama falling out with Masisi. At this point, it is not a secret that Gen. Khama’s plan had been to have Masisi, whom he elevated to the vice presidency, return the favour by making Tshekedi his Vice President. Masisi opted for someone else – Slumber Tsogwane. Then began tug-of-war between Masisi and the Khamas that reached its dramatic highpoint when Gen. Khama fled to South Africa in November 2021 after tangling with law enforcement over “weapons of war.” He was joined by twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony and their families five months later. They too had tangled with law enforcement over the operations of a company they own.
Away in exile, Tshekedi, who was the only Khama still holding national office, didn’t attend parliament meetings but retained his seat. However, through such absence, he risked being removed from his position in terms of what the standing orders prescribe. That was what happened last week Friday when Parliament Speaker, Phandu Skelemani, declared – through an Extraordinary Government Gazette, that the Serowe West parliamentary seat was vacant. For first time since 1875, Khamas are not part of national leadership. This time around, not only is there no Khama in the national leadership, the Khamas are themselves not in the country but living in exile. Last Friday was historic in that regard.