With Monday marking President’s Day, and Sir Seretse Khama Day having just passed, one is reminded of the legacy of our first President
Sir Seretse Khama was a statesman who, in word and deed, combined pragmatism with a genuinely national vision. Fortunately for us, many of his words, which have become more timeless with each passing year, have been preserved. Below are two examples:
1) An early manifestation of Seretse’s national vision was articulated in April 1958 when, for the first time, he rose to speak as a member of the Joint Advisory Council. This was several months after his return from enforced exile in the UK and three years before he began to form the BDP. Dominated by representatives of the white settler community and dikgosi, at the time most members of the Council had little interest in democratic reform. Some even saw Botswana’s future as being best served by joining the then white settler dominated Federation of Rhodesias and Nyasaland (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi). It was in this historical context the following words by Seretse stood out, as he spoke against a proposal to consider the Protectorate’s association with the Federation:
“I think it is time that we ourselves in Bechuanaland, who neither belong to the Union of South Africa nor the Federation, or any other part as far as I can see, except Great Britain, should formulate a policy of our own, which is probably unique to us. And that is a policy, perhaps, of even teaching those countries who profess to be more advanced than ourselves, that in as far as administration and race relationships are concerned they have more to learn from us than we from them.
“I must say, quite frankly that I have been rather disturbed to find that on the whole there is a tendency to look always over our shoulders. Perhaps I am wrong, if so I stand corrected. We want to see what is happening elsewhere instead of getting on with what we know is perculiar to us and to the country itself. We should get on and have no fear that we may incur someone’s displeasure, as long as what we do is internationally accepted.
“And if we are right, I am afraid emotion must come into this, we should not bother very much with what anyone might say. We have ample opportunity in this country to teach people how human beings can live together.”
2) Some years later, at the 1972 BDP Convention, Seretse Khama added to his vision with the following:
“I have often said that the greatest threat to progress in Africa comes not from the military might of the minority regimes but the weaknesses within our own societies, which our enemies seek to exploit. Thus, our principal contribution must be the defense of our independence by the only means available to us- the defense and development of non-racialism and social justice for all. We must build a society in which all our citizens, irrespective of race, tribe or occupation, can fulfill themselves to the greatest possible extent, where we can live in peace and uphold the ideals enshrined in the Setswana concept Kagisano- unity, peace, harmony and a sense of community.”