Ruth Williams Khama

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.

Ruth Williams Khama
1st First Lady of Botswana
In role
30 September 1966  13 July 1980
PresidentSeretse Khama
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byGladys Olebile Masire
Personal details
Ruth Williams

(1923-12-09)9 December 1923
Blackheath, London
Died22 May 2002(2002-05-22) (aged 78)
Gaborone, Botswana
Resting placeRoyal Cemetery, Serowe, Botswana
Political partyBotswana Democratic Party
Spouse(s)Seretse Khama
(1948–1980; his death)
ChildrenJacqueline Khama
Ian Khama
Tshekedi Khama II
Anthony Khama

Early life

Lady Khama was born Ruth Williams in Meadowcourt Road, Blackheath in south London.[1][2] She was the daughter of George and Dorothy Williams.[3] 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 close.[4]

She was educated at Eltham Hill 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.[5] Their plans to marry caused controversy both with the tribal elders in Bechuanaland and the government of South Africa, which had recently instituted the system of racial segregation known as apartheid.

The British government intervened in an attempt to stop the marriage. The Bishop of London, William Wand, said he would permit a church wedding only if the government agreed.[6] The couple married at Kensington register office in September 1948.[7] Daniel Malan, Prime Minister of South Africa, described their marriage as "nauseating".[6][8] Julius Nyerere, then a student teacher and later President of Tanzania, said it was "one of the great love stories of the world".[7]

The couple returned to Bechuanaland, then a British protectorate, where Seretse's uncle Tshekedi Khama was regent. After receiving popular support in Bechuanaland, Seretse was called to London in 1950 for discussions with British officials. He was prevented from returning home and told he had to remain in exile. Ruth joined him in England and the married couple lived as exiles from 1951, living in Croydon.[6]

Popular support and protest continued in Bechuanaland. 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.


Lady 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[8]). 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). Despite, or perhaps because of, the national controversy surrounding their union in the 1940s and 1950s, the couple were inseparable until his death from cancer in 1980.[9] After her husband's death, she lived on a large farm in Botswana, dedicating her time and efforts to charitable causes and spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Two of their sons, Ian and Tshekedi, have become prominent politicians in Botswana. Ian Khama was elected as the President of Botswana in 2008.


Lady 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.[8][6]

A film, A Marriage of Inconvenience, based on the Michael Dutfield book with same name, was made in 1990 about the Khamas.[10] A book, Colour Bar, has been published about the Khamas' relationship and struggles.[11] In addition, it has also been suggested that the experiences of the Khamas, as well as the somewhat contemporary case of 1950s debutante 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.[12]

Lady Khama is portrayed by Rosamund Pike in the 2016 film A United Kingdom directed by Amma Asante.[13]


  1. Q. N. Parsons, ‘Khama, Sir Seretse (1921–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 accessed 23 Mar 2016
  2. Sometimes described as being in Lewisham or Blackheath.
  3. A Life of Service - Lady Khama, Sunday Standard, 20 August 2012
  4. Sir Seretse Khama’s sister in law, Muriel Sanderson, is no more, The Monitor, 29 June 2015
  5. Ruth Williams Khama obituary, The Independent, 30 May 2002
  6. Obituary: Lady Ruth Khama, The Guardian, 29 May 2002
  7. Lady Khama (Ruth Williams), The Scotsman, 30 May 2002
  8. Lady Khama, The Daily Telegraph, 24 May 2002
  9. Williams, Susan (7 June 2007). Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141900926.
  10. A Marriage of Inconvenience (1990), IMDb, 14 August 1990
  11. Another film, "A United Kingdom" (February 2017), Cast: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Jack Davenport; Director: Amma Asante; by Fox Searchlight Genre: Drama Topics: Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance Run time: 111 minutes MPAA rating: PG-13 MPAA explanation: some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality The bride wore black, The Guardian, 19 August 2006
  12. Peggy Appiah, 84, Author Who Bridged Two Cultures, Dies, The New York Times, February 16, 2006
  13. 'Belle' Filmmaker to Direct David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike in 'A United Kingdom, The Hollywood Reporter, Kit Borys
  • Williams, Susan. 2006. Colour Bar. Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-9811-3
  • Dutfield, Michael. 1990. "A Marriage of Inconvenience, The Persecution of Ruth and Seretse Khama". Routledge. ISBN 0-04-440495-6
  • A Marriage of Inconvenience on IMDb
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Office created
First Lady of Botswana
30 September 1966 – 13 July 1980
Succeeded by
Gladys Olebile Masire
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.