Lady Ruth Khama
Lady Khama, a devoted mother was always concerned about the needs of women and children, especially those who were disadvantaged.
This concern manifested itself in her leadership of numerous charities; most notably the Botswana Red Cross Society, the Botswana Council of Women, and the SOS Children’s Villages. It was through her character that she reflected the core principles of the Red Cross of: humanity, impartiality, independence, voluntary services, unity and universality. Her dedication to these ideals was a source of personal strength that predates the period of her famous marriage, the story of which held her as a global symbol of the triumph of love of family and community over racial ignorance and hate.
Marriage and Exile
In 1947, Ruth met Seretse Khama, heir to the chieftainship of the Bamangwato, the biggest tribal nation in the Protectorate of Bechuanaland. Seretse and Ruth married quietly in London on the 29th September 1948. The couple both had passionate characters and were undoubtedly commitment to justice, honesty, and duty to family and community.
In 1950, following pressure from the apartheid South African government, the British Government banished Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland, primarily for his interracial marriage. In the same year, Ruth was pregnant in Serowe with their first child. Seretse was allowed back into the country for a brief period but confined to live in Lobatse. Later that year the couple was exiled to the United Kingdom with their new baby daughter, Jacqueline. In exile, the couple was blessed with their first son, Ian, in 1953.
Return to Botswana
Seretse, Ruth, and their two children made their return to Bechuanaland in 1956, after a long and determined campaign by the people of Botswana and their supporters in the United Kingdom and other nations.
Upon their return, the couple made Serowe their home, where they continued to raise their children. Two years later, in 1958, the family welcomed its final additions with the birth of male twins Tshekedi and Anthony.
Ruth soon began to engage in community service. She formed the inaugural Botswana Council of Women, which provided services for women and their children.
Seretse Khama launched the Bechuanaland (later Botswana) Democratic Party (BDP) in 1961 where Ruth assisted the BDP in involving women and encouraging their political participation. The party won the nation’s first multi-party general elections in 1965, with Seretse Khama becoming the Prime Minister. In the next year, on the 30th September, Botswana gained independence from Britain, and Seretse Khama became the young nation’s first President. In the same year, Queen Elizabeth knighted Seretse Khama, making his wife Lady Ruth Khama.
In her new role as First Lady, Lady Khama (popularly known as Lady K) supported her husband in his role as Head of State as set about building and running a new nation. Her passion for community service, however, never waned.
In 1968, under her leadership and guidance, an Act of Parliament acknowledged the Botswana Red Cross Society, making it an independent organization. Lady Khama was elected founding President, a position that she held until her death. The Society was officially welcomed as the 113th member of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1970, and became a member of the Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies in 1971.
Over her lifetime, Lady K made significant contributions to civil society organizations in Botswana. She was founding and first President of the Child to Child Foundation, and set up the Lady Khama Christmas Charity Fund. In a more personal capacity, and as a religious woman, she devoted time and energy to the Anglican Church’s services for disadvantaged people in local communities.
Lady K’s lifelong hard work and unfaltering dedication to charitable work did not go unnoticed. In 1971, in recognition of her contribution to the Botswana Red Cross Society, she was awarded the Red Cross Certificate of Distinguished Service. Posthumously, Lady Khama was further awarded the Red Cross Lifetime Membership in 2008.
Lady Khama passed away in 2002 following an illness. She leaves behind her older sister, four children, 6 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
Several books and a TV short series were produced about Lady Khama and Sir Seretse’s story:
- “Colour Bar - The Triumph of Seretse Khama and his Nation”. Published 2007 by Penguin and,
- “A Marriage of Inconvenience – Persecution of Ruth and Seretse Khama” Published in 1990 by HarperCollins.