Botswana Prince's Vintage Interracial Love That Spurred a Diplomatic Crisis to Hit the Big Screen
This is the extraordinary vintage interracial love story of the late Botswana president Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams, a middle-class white Englishwoman. And for the first time, their story of how they stuck it out a midst obstacles and outage - a romance that caused major political and diplomatic crisis between Britain and Botswana’s neighbor South Africa - is to be shown on the being screen.
And who better to play the role of Seretse than British actor David Oyelowo (the first Black Bond; also married to a white woman in real life). By his side playing Ruth Williams, is Rosamund Pike. The film is titled "A United Kingdom".
So how did these two individuals from 2 different and far apart worlds meet?
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Their passion for Jazz is what brought them together. See, Seretse was in Oxford University at the time studying law (after the death of his father who was a chief, his uncle sent him to study). Ruth, the daughter of a former Indian Army captain, was a clerk with a Lloyd’s underwriter. They met at a London Missionary Society dance in 1947 where Seretse asked Ruth to dance.
Seretse never sought consent from his uncle Tshekedi Khama because he knew he wasn't going to hand it to him; he was the chief in waiting of the Bamangwato tribe and was expected to go back home and marry a woman from his tribe. Ruth on the other hand asked her father George, who wasn't for the idea of his daughter marrying a Black man. She chose to ignore him.
The pair got married in 1948. At the time, Seretse was 27 and Ruth, 24.
Right from the start, their romance was fiercely opposed by both families to the extent of the British government ganging up with Seretse's uncle, demanding that he dumps his white wife, or quit his tribal lands and leave his homeland.
"They were sent into exile because of their forbidden love", said Amma Asante, director of "A United Kingdom".
Apparently, a high up British politician had stormed into Ruth's office telling her: “If you go ahead with this, you’re going to bring down the British empire in Africa”. This was the time when South Africa (Botswana's neighboring country) was about to introduce apartheid. So Britain didn't want anything ruining their relations with South Africa.
"South Africa made strong representations to the British government that if they were seen to condone the marriage of a white woman to an African, there would be a Commonwealth and constitutional crisis," said actress Pike. Seretse’s uncle Chief Tshekedi also insisted that the Colonial Office prevent the marriage. Since the person who was meant to officiate at the ceremony was banned from doing so, the ceremony never took place. Ruth and Seretse married secretly at a register office instead.
A year later, they went back to his tribe in Bechuanaland, thinking the worst was over, only to find his uncle filled with furor.
Tshekedi summoned tribal elders to a meeting, at which blood relatives of Seretse opposed the marriage.
They said Ruth would not be recognised as tribal queen. But Seretse and his supporters realised that Tshekedi wanted to be king himself. Though many felt he was simply a conservative, locked in the 'old ways'.
At the final meeting there were 9,000 present and only 40 objected to Seretse becoming king and his wife queen.
Furious telegrams were also being exchanged between the UK and South African governments, with Pretoria maintaining that their marriage breached race laws and South African prime minister discrediting it by calling it "nauseating".
Having refused to give up his wife, Seretse was banished for five years. A committee was set up to take up his case and in 1956, leaders of the Bamangwato tribe sent a telegram to the Queen asking her to let him go back home which he finally did.
He gave up rights to the throne then held the country’s first democratic elections, where he was elected president of what became Botswana. Ruth and Seretse had a daughter and three sons. Ian, is now the president of Botswana.
Seretse died in his wife’s arms aged 59 in 1980. Ruth died aged 78 in 2002.
The forthcoming film is set to be released late this year. Oyelowo fell in love with the "epic nature of the love story, and the backdrop of the British empire, and what it was like to be a king in Africa just as apartheid was being signed into law in South Africa" as he put it.
This racially charged drama is gonna be BIG, don't you agree?
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