Ruth Williams Khama
Born Ruth Williams
9 December 1923
Died 22 May 2002 (aged 78)
Cause of death Throat cancer
Resting place Royal Cemetery, Serowe, Botswana
Other names First Lady of Botswana
Political party Botswana Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Seretse Khama
Children Jacqueline Khama
Tshekedi Khama II
Ruth Williams Khama, Lady Khama (9 December 1923 – 22 May 2002) was the wife of Botswana's first president Sir Seretse Khama, the Paramount Chief of its Bamangwato tribe. She served as the inaugural First Lady of Botswana from 1966 to 1980.
1 Early life
5 In popular culture
Lady Khama was born Ruth Williams in Meadowcourt Road, Eltham in south London. She was the daughter of George and Dorothy Williams. Her father had served as a captain in the British Army in India, and later worked in the tea trade. She had a sister, Muriel Williams-Sanderson, with whom she remained very close.
She was educated at Eltham Grammar School and then served as a WAAF ambulance driver at various airfields in the south of England during the Second World War. After the war, she worked as a clerk for Cuthbert Heath, a firm of underwriters at Lloyd's of London.
In June 1947, at a dance at Nutford House organised by the London Missionary Society, her sister introduced her to the then Prince Seretse Khama. He was the son of the paramount chief Sekgoma II of the Bamangwato people, and was studying law at Inner Temple in London after a year at Balliol College, Oxford. The couple were both fans of jazz music, particularly The Ink Spots, and quickly fell in love. Their plans to marry caused controversy both with the apartheid government of South Africa and the tribal elders in Bechuanaland.
The British government intervened in an attempt to stop the marriage, and the Bishop of London, William Wand, would only permit a church wedding if the government agreed, so they were married at Kensington register office in September 1948. Their marriage was described as "nauseating" by the Prime Minister of South Africa Daniel Malan, but as "one of the great love stories of the world" by Julius Nyerere, then a student teacher and later President of Tanzania.
They returned to Bechuanaland, then a British protectorate, where Seretse's uncle Tshekedi was regent. After receiving popular support in Bechuanaland, Seretse was called to London in 1950 for discussions with British officials, and he was then prevented from returning home. The married couple lived as exiles in England from 1951, living in Croydon.
Popular support and protest continued in Bechuanaland, and the couple were permitted to return in 1956 after the Bamangwato people sent a telegram to Queen Elizabeth II. Seretse renounced his tribal throne, and became a cattle farmer in Serowe.
Seretse founded the nationalist Bechuanaland Democratic Party and won the 1965 general election. As prime minister of Bechuanaland, he pushed for independence, which was granted in 1966. Seretse Khama became the first president of independent Botswana, and he became a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Lady Khama was an influential, politically active First Lady during her husband's four consecutive terms as president from 1966 to 1980.
Khama and her husband had four children. Their first child Jacqueline was born in Bechuanaland in 1950, shortly after Seretse was exiled. Their first son Ian was born in England in 1953, and twins Anthony and Tshekedi were born in Bechuanaland in 1958 (Anthony was named after Tony Benn, then known as Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who supported their return from exile in the early 1950s). She remained in Botswana after her husband's death in office in 1980, receiving recognition as "Mohumagadi Mma Kgosi" (mother of the chief, or queen mother).
Two of their sons, Ian and Tshekedi, became prominent politicians in Botswana; Ian Khama became the President of Botswana in 2008.
Khama died of throat cancer in Gaborone at the age of 78, survived by her four children. She was buried in Botswana next to her husband.
In popular culture
A film, A Marriage of Inconvenience, based on the Michael Dutfield book with same name, was made in 1990 about the Khamas. A book, Colour Bar, has been published about the Khamas' relationship and struggles. In addition, it has also been suggested that the experiences of the Khamas, as well as the somewhat contemporary case of 1950s celebutante Peggy Cripps' marriage to the African anti-colonialist Nana Joe Appiah, influenced the writing of the Oscar-winning feature film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Lady Khama is portrayed by Rosamund Pike in the 2016 film A United Kingdom directed by Amma Asante.