Ruth Williams Khama

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Blackheath, London
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Blackheath, London

First president of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama’s wife was Ruth Williams Khama, also referred to as Lady Khama. Between 1966 and 1980, she was Botswana’s first First Lady. Ruth Williams, who was born in a white family to British parents, led an unremarkable existence up until the moment she met Seretse at a gathering. Despite neither of them expressing it out loud, the two were almost immediately attracted to one another. He was an African black prince, and she was a British white secretary. Despite their ethnic, social, societal, and political divisions, they had nothing in common but a shared sense of interest. Williams and Seretse became close friends after only a few encounters. Despite their racial and religious divides, they chose to get married. The already controversial marriage was made even more problematic by the apartheid statute that had just been implemented at the time and prohibited interracial unions. Williams and Seretse defied all expectations, however, and proved everyone wrong by becoming “role model” friends. Seretse diligently assumed the role of First Lady and held it until 1980 when she was elected as Botswana’s first president in the future. While serving as First Lady, Lady Khama looked out for the public’s interests and fought for women’s rights.

Early Childhood & Life

George and Dorothy Williams welcomed Ruth Williams into the world on December 9, 1923 at Meadowcourt Road, Eltham South London. Her father was a British Army captain stationed in India. Muriel Williams-Sanderson, her sister, was also a woman.
She attended Eltham Hill Grammar School for her early education. Her excellent demonstration of bravery and gallantry from an early age set her apart from her peers.
Williams, who was in her teens at the time the Luftwaffe bombed London, took up fire watching responsibilities. She worked as an ambulance driver for the Women Auxiliary Air Force at numerous airfields in England two years later, during the Second World War.

A union with Seretse Khama

Ruth Williams started working as a clerk for Cuthbert Heath, a London-based insurance company, after the war. Williams’ life was radically altered by a casual invitation from her sister to a ball hosted by the London Missionary Society in June 1947 for a few students from Africa. She had no idea that attending the performance would have such a profound impact on her life.

Williams first met Prince Seretse Khama, an Oxford law student at Balliol College, on that fateful evening. He was the Bangwato people’s heir apparent in Bechuanaland, a British colony (now Botswana).
Williams and Seretse became attracted to one another right away once they met. Despite coming from different racial origins, they were unable to avoid falling in love. However, as was to be expected, the traditional society disapproved of their union, and both sets of families, particularly her father and Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Khama, were hostile to their relationship.

Williams and Seretse’s romance made news and drew political attention. Everyone opposed the marriage because it went against the recently implemented apartheid or racial segregation system, including tribal leaders in Bechuanaland and the governments of South Africa and Britain.
Governmental officials even prevented their church wedding with the assistance of the London Missionary Society and the Church of England in order to discourage the union. Williams and Seretse officially registered their marriage in 1948 against the restriction.

Williams and Seretse moved to Serowe in Bechuanaland after being married. The inhabitants of Bangwato finally regarded Williams as their mother or queen. Seretse was invited to London in 1950 to meet with British government representatives. He was instructed to stay in exile and was, as anticipated, forbidden from going back home. Williams, who is never one to back down in trying circumstances, accompanied Seretse to England. Beginning in 1951, the couple lived in exile in Croydon.

There were demonstrations all around Bechuanaland as word of Seretse and Williams’ banishment spread. People from Bamangwato came out in favor of the pair and urged the administration to lift the restriction. Even Queen Elizabeth II received a letter from them. The restriction was only repealed in 1956, allowing Seretse and Williams to go back to their own country.

Upon his return, Seretse abandoned his claim to the tribal throne and settled in Serowe as a cattle farmer. The nationalist Bechuanaland Democratic Party was afterwards created by him. Seretse ran in and won the first democratic election for prime minister of Bechuanaland during the general election of 1965.
Seretse advocated for independence when he was appointed prime minister and helped his nation win it in 1966. He thus became the country’s first president following its independence. He was elected to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire as a Knight Commander. Williams, obediently, took the First Lady of Botswana’s position.

Seretse presided over Botswana for four consecutive terms from 1966 to 1980. Williams, or Lady Khama as she was then known, participated in the social and political activities of the nation during this time. She pushed women to take the front seat rather than take a backseat. She pushed women to take up leadership roles in all spheres.
Lady Khama presided over the Botswana Red Cross as the First Lady of the country. The organization oversaw the regional relief efforts. She was also in charge of the Child to Child Foundation, the Botswana Council of Women, and the Girl Guides.

Lady Khama stayed in Botswana after Seretse’s passing in 1980. She was known as “Mohumagadi Mma Kgosi,” meaning the Mother of the Chief. She was even referred to as the Queen Mother.

Children of Ruth Williams Khama

Ruth Williams was expecting their first child at the time Seretse was requested to travel to London. Williams was detained in Bechuanaland because the Bangwato were wary of what Britain was trying to accomplish. In Seretse’s absence, William gave birth to their daughter Jacqueline.

Williams relocated to London to be with her exiled husband soon after having their child. Ian, their second child, was born in 1953. Anthony and Tshekedi, twins, were born in Bechuanaland in 1958.
Ian and Tshekedi, their sons, went on to become prominent figures in Botswana politics. Ian Khama was chosen to lead Botswana as president in 2008.

Death of Ruth Williams Khama

Ruth Williams, who had throat cancer, passed away on May 22, 2002 in Botswana. She was 78 at the time. Her four children were left behind. Williams was interred with her husband in Botswana.