Before President Ian Khama was inaugurated into the State House, just before his predecessor Festus Mogae ended his ten-year tenure, he sought to have something innocuous but somewhat emotionally important done. He sought to have the statue of his father and founding President Seretse Khama turned over to face parliament.
The statue, erected 22 year before, to mark the 20th independence of the country in 1986, was designed and cast in Britain by British artist Norman Pearce. For those entire 22 years from 1986 to 2006, that statue had stood facing eastwards over Parliament Drive into the Main Mall. Seretse Khama stayed watch over the sprawl of the Main Mall where young unemployed Batswana walk around with envelopes under their arms, hawkers squint from the spicy smoke of hotdogs, the pungent tasty funk of serobe and phaleche, hawkers yell out their wares to uninterested passer-bys and conductors hustle potential passengers into combis.
Seretse’s son was unhappy however with the gaze of this father being away from him. So, a tender was released to dislodge the bust and turn the founding president over so he gives his back to the people, to instead watch over parliament, in time for the son’s inauguration. As a result, on Tuesday 1st April 2008, the bronze Khama, with his half-smile, head proud, and straight posture had his full attention on the goings-on before him as another was Khama being sworn in as president. Right there in front of Parliament, Ian Khama put his hand on the bible and swore to serve the country “So help me (him) God”; After that the swearing in and Mogae walked away a mere citizen- what the new soldier president would have called “civilian”, it was time for the presidential pageantry to be focused on Ian Khama – salutes, guards of honour by the BDF men and ululations. All this unfolded under the watch of Seretse Khama’s statue. It is as if Ian Khama wanted to show his father that he had achieved what the old man had always doubted; that his son could do well. He and his father always had a fascinating relationship but one of the major points of differences between the two as son grew older was that father did not think Ian Khama would make a suitable leader, at least not a great leader for this country. Various politicians this writer has spoken to across the political divide stress that Seretse always warned that at the very best his son should only be left at Sir Seretse Khama Barracks as BDF Commander. Ian Khama was left with a deep scar because of the doubts his father entertained over his suitability in leading the nation.
It is important to understand that Ian Khama had a complicated relationship with his father which may later have impacted his view of not just his father but Batswana in general. Father and son fundamentally misunderstood each, it is said as the boy grew older, Lady Ruth Khama often had to intervene.
When one studies Khama’s upbringing from formative stages past his commandership of the Botswana Defence Force, two aspects of his thinking stand prominent – the unsatisfied need to be a recognized mind in military terms, like his maternal grandfather, and to save people and animals in dire situations, like his highly influential mother, Lady Ruth. However, Khama possesses a hero complex of a unique nature; underpinning the complex is his keen interest to prove his worth to people of European origin- an obsession which itself is an inferiority complex often presenting itself in the guise of a superiority complex over black people. This has foundations in both his racist past social existence as well his royal childhood. Seretse Khama may have been a giant in public life but seems to have been less so in his family- if his influence is to be measured according to the impact he had on his first born son’s self-identity. Instead of fashioning himself alongside his father, Ian Khama, whether consciously or subconsciously, found the oppositional self-identity worthier to pursue.
However, Ian’s difficult relationship with his father started way earlier. From the onset Ruth sought to direct the minutest details of his upbringing; Seretse envisaged that as the boy got older he would break away from his mother’s strict upbringing and perhaps follow his footsteps- but by the time the boy matured into the man, the father was unable to impact on the complex world view he had developed. Seretse, ever the man of dark humour- always, it is said, teased his son for being “Mum’s Boy”, perhaps as a way to dissuade him from staying tied to her apron strings; a thing said to have driven the son further into the safety of his mother, developing further shyness and social awkwardness. Ian Khama was never brought up to live and socialize with Batswana. What is not clear is whether there were plans even at that early age for him to become a national leader. If indeed there were any such plans, Seretse did not believe, at least later on, as he recorded, that he would make a suitable leader for Batswana.
Ian Khama’s role models were the men of European origin he met back in his maternal homeland and internationally as he was tossed from one strict boarding school to the next and ultimately to military school. He found that he mixed easily with his maternal family and throughout his entire formative years, his routine was between attending boarding schools, returning home and going back again. However, it is important to note that while he was fond of Britain, often he faced racial discrimination and still depended on Ruth to provide a safe home for him. Being teased by Seretse only drew him further away. As always, perhaps Seretse who had experienced and triumphed over racial tensions of his own due to his marriage to Ruth, never quite came understand his son’s experiences. It is possible that the boy’s experiences were unique within his family- being the first-born son; being thrown into foreign lands away from family and a child of mixed-race at a time when racial purity was a mainstream ideology within even the most western of cities.
While Ian Khama lacked a direct Motswana male role model on which to formulate his self-identity, Seretse had no such problems when he was growing up.
Seretse and Ian Khama’s life experiences would have been poles apart. Seretse, despite growing an orphan, grew up around a strong royal family environment that emphasized a well-rounded grooming, his school being planned by his uncle Tshekedi Khama as an elaborate plan to raise a future leader. Tshekedi was a strong leader and his run-ins with both his fellow tribal detractors such as the Ratshosa brothers and his assertion of royal independence from the colonial officials showed a man who knew how to lead, either by pushing or pulling his followers. Even when he chose Seretse’s schooling, Tshekedi made a deliberate effort to find schools he deemed worthy of a future Bangwato leader. The colonial masters preferred that Seretse be sent to Rhodesia while, Tshekedi thought Rhodesian schools were not up to scratch hence he preferred the school he himself had attended Lovedale.
“Rey was deeply suspicious of this institution and its products, and was determined to keep Seretse ‘out of the clutches of the missionaries’. He ruled that ‘on no account can we allow Seretse to go to Lovedale.’ Nettelton agreed with Rey’s views, considering that Seretse would meet all sorts of Africans from the Union ‘with a decidedly anti-European outlook on life and this Administration will suffer for it eventually just as it suffers from Tshekedi’s outlook which was created at Lovedale.’ Nettelton, Rey and the Inspector of Education, Mr. Dumbrell, all agreed that the best course would be for Seretse to go to one of the schools in Southern Rhodesia, or alternatively one of the mission schools in South Africa. The school favoured by the Administration was Dombashawa which the young Chief Moremi of the Bakgatla was attending. Tshekedi made clear his dislike for Rhodesian schools which he considered not to be “up to standard,” writes Michael Chowder in his unfinished manuscript The Black Prince. Tshekedi’s will prevailed.
Seretse Khama did not lack strong Batswana role models in which to follow. After Lovedale Seretse attended Tiger Kloof, both being schools which were known for grooming strong African thinkers, a decision that Tshekedi would have made deliberately as he believed he was grooming in Seretse a man who could stand toe to toe with the colonial system that had by then entrenched itself in the protectorate and the Bamangwato Reserve. Seretse studied law at the University of Witwatersrand and Balloil College, Oxford, before taking up further Barrister Studies at Inner Temple in London.
In a way Seretse’s formative stages and later academic development were the exact opposite of what Ian Khama would experience. By the late 1940s Seretse “had also blossomed in other respects because of his move to London. Nutford House and the Inns of Court gave him cosmopolitan connections with fellow students from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. At Nutford House, Seretse moved easily between Caribbean and West African majority groups of students who were sometimes at enmity with each other. The only other Southern Africans at Nutford House were Northern Rhodesians (Zambians). Seretse shared a room with one of them, whom he had met in 1945 on the boat from Cape Town,” explains historian Neil Parsons in his manuscript for the book The Marriage Years of Seretse Khama (1945-56). Seretse would therefore have established an ideological framework around which he would base his world view; pan-Africanist, slightly left of centre and cosmopolitan.
But Seretse must have also imbibed from the intellectual wealth that was Tshekedi, a masterful and tactile politician experienced both in national and in international matters. Seretse and Ian Khama’s background could have become more divergent, as a result. Seretse battled with Tshekedi over his marriage to Ruth, indicating an independent thinker who was prepared to argue a point of principle, resembling in both clarity of argument and strength of character the endless arguments Tshekedi had with the colonial administrators.
In a way Seretse failed to provide to Ian what Tshekedi provided to him- by not asserting himself in the moulding of the boy the way his uncle had done for him. This further complicated Ian Khama’s psychological framework; he had to make do with high schools, a few language courses and then straight to military school. After stints in a Rhodesian school, he joined Waterford Kamhlaba boarding school in Mbabane, Swaziland; a school which was a member of a group of schools with campuses across the world.
It was founded by a British teacher Michael Stern who wanted to create a school that would espouse non-racialism at a time when most children of the African elite had nowhere to go, given that good schools were exclusively white. A somewhat liberal school, Kamhlala included a multiracial group of students from some of the most prominent families in the sub-continent. Among its alumnus Kamhlala counts the Mandela daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, Lindiwe Sisulu, current South African Minister of Housing and Xolile Guma of the Reserve Bank of South Africa. It is reported that Ian Khama socialized much more actively although he was still relatively reserved. The school was also oriented towards active community service. He took well to the physical activities the school’s extra-curricular activities provided.
It however remains a mystery whether Ian Khama completed his high school, qualifications or not, but in 1970 the 17-year-old left Waterford, spending his time after high school in a sort of academic lull. Reports say he went to Geneva the following year to learn French, moving to London the following year. In 1972, he joined the military college of Sandhurst, which accepted intake not only on academic qualifications but also on social status, enrolling numerous members of royalty and children of President’s from across the world. The school, established in 1947 gives preliminary training to military officers. Ian Khama was then, the only Motswana to enroll in the military school.
RMA Sandhurst was a product of the merger of the Royal Military Academy which prepared Artillery and Engineering officers and the Royal Military College. At some point, it was the major training institution for entrance level military officers for the British Army. Although not at the university level, unlike schools such as West Point (US), National Defence Academy (India) and Australian Defence Force Academy, Sandhurst is one of the most recognizable names in military training. He returned to Botswana in 1973 and joined the Police Mobile Unit the precursor to the Botswana Police Service. By the time he reached the commandership of the BDF, Ian Khama had a stunted intellectual trajectory.
In a way Seretse’s own growth provided the landscape to fill up his intellectual development, with his life experiences providing hard challenges and equal rewards. But one thing is also clear, Seretse’s background could not be as unique as Ian Khama’s. Seretse had a single heritage, the Sengwato royal background. Ian had to find his way in a complex world where he was both a royal on one hand and a less-than pure white man on the other.
It would have made more sense for Seretse Khama to take a more aggressive role in developing the intellectual form of his first-born son, with an understanding that the son’s experiences were more challenging and required more guidance as he attempted to carve out his place in a complex world which granted him both royal reverence and racial discrimination. However, there are those who say even as Ian Khama grew into a young man, he felt misunderstood by his father. Ruth may have provided a safe haven for him, but she did not possess the intellectual form through which the boy could design his own sophisticated self-identity. As a matter of fact, Ruth provided to Ian Khama a specifically British upbringing which further alienated him from the Botswana society in which he was later expected to thrive.
Seretse, from birth never had to prove himself to anyone, he knew he was a royal whereas Ian Khama had to prove himself to both his British to his Batswana counterparts, and win credibility among his British counterparts as a real Brit despite his black side. Schools such as Lovedale and later Tiger Kloof, leading institutions in the development of Black leadership, encouraged meaningful discourse among its students, and back home Tshekedi himself would have thrown Seretse into serious discourse as a young royal being groomed for future leadership. Seretse therefore could mix with Bangwato children and later other Batswana men knowing that he needed not assert himself as a leader as it was already implicitly understood. This granted him the ability to play down his own advantage and encourage a sort of egalitarian spirit around him. Speaking to then Mmegi scribe Ephraim Keoreng, the late Naledi Khama reveals that Seretse Khama was a passionate sportsman who played football. After playing for a long-time as a goal keeper at the then Serowe based Motherwell, Seretse in 1960 grouped his Malekantwa regiment and founded the renowned Miscellaneous Football Club, which now plays top flight football in the be Mobile Premier League. “He grew up very close to his cousins Serogola Lekhutile, Lenyeletse Seretse and Dikgakgamatso Kebailele,” she said in an interview conducted in July 2012.
Also, it is said often Khama and Ruth differed on how to conduct their lives. For example, Ruth, Naledi tells Keoreng, was opposed to Seretse Khama eating such things as phane and tlhogo ya kgomo, while Seretse saw Setswana cuisine and indeed its simplicity as an integral part to his own identity. If Ian Khama was close his mother, one could conclude that the boy would have developed a sympathetic if not similar views about a number of traits that Seretse saw as normal.
There are two main reasons however as to why Ian and Seretse may have not been able to reconcile their different point of views. Once he had gone for military training Ian Khama would have developed a different state of mind, added to that the clear black and white lens through which his mother Ruth saw the world, contrasting to Seretse’s appreciation of the nuanced way in which the world worked. The military world view seeks to bludgeon complicated intellectual engagement into a straight obeying of orders and Ian Khama, appointed a brigadier in his 20s, never had to take orders but instead was only required to issue them. This is a gap in his growth as a future leader both in and outside of the army, as he never had occasion to maneuver around difficult commands. Seretse Khama a trained lawyer sought constant engagement and encouraged arguments as a viable method towards refining ideas, while Ian Khama from as soon as he could walk, had to be seen to be a leader, partly because of his demanding mother’s expectation and also because of his royal background. If Ian Khama expected to learn slowly, the world gave him every indication he had no such time, by the time he was mid-20s he was already a national folk hero by virtue merely of birth.
The second point is that Seretse Khama became a busy man immediately he founded the Botswana Democratic Party. While Ian Khama was in and out of home on boarding schools, his father was in and out of home in his political activism and the busy social schedule.
Ruth’s concern for Seretse’s health would have led to her being concerned about what he ate and indeed what he inhaled. Seretse had enjoyed a smoke and indeed his drink for his entire early adulthood. It is not clear whether this was always a point of discussion between the two early in their relationship or developed as Seretse got older and his health became the subject of Ruth’s attention. If Ian Khama held a sympathetic view of Ruth’s position, it would have taken a short shift from that- to subconsciously seeking to be the type of man his mother demanded his father to be. Having joined the army the way his mother would have wanted, Ian would have rejected the vices of his father. The boy sought to make his mother proud, where perhaps his father failed and in the process also prove to his father, who had doubts about his capability, that indeed he was a real man.
It seems Ian Khama created an obverse, if not outright Eurocentric view of his father which he later projected on Batswana. Ian Khama deep in his own thinking has an oppositional view of his father, almost styling himself antithetical to him. The notion that Seretse was unable to reign in his ‘vices’- even to be point of suffering his ultimate demise to them- created in Ian Khama the need to then police what he viewed as vices among Batswana. There is something colonial in the way he views Batswana, especially men – he will do whatever he believes is necessary to save them from themselves, viewing them as inherently flawed and needing a benevolent dictatorial hand to guide them. If they cannot help but eat braaied meat off the street he will put an end to that. If they cannot help but imbibe their drinks he will put a heavy fine for such past times. Khama’s rejection of debate, so integral to Setswana leadership ethos, is the rejection of Seretse Khama’s “weakness”.