Friday, 2 December 2016

A United Kingdom

I then found I had failed to bring the unlimited card but the email was accepted so I could experience the film A United Kingdom at the Cineworld Docklands on Sunday 27th November 2016, and which merits some reporting and attention as part of the story of political awareness and engagement. I only have a vague memory of the fuss at the time of the impact of the African tribal leader from Botswana, Seretse Kharma marrying a white young woman or that the play and film “Guess who is coming to dinner?” was loosely based on their story together.  There has been a book called Colour Bar by Susan Williams and on which the present film A United Kingdom is said to be based with David Oyelowo as Seretse and Rosamund Pike as his wife The film accurately  covers the important aspects of how they met and their life together, but there are also significant differences in terms of the political events although again the overall story of why the Atlee and Churchill post war government accepted South African Apartheid and Churchill  lied to voters reneging on what he had said is accurate.

Seretse Kharma was born in 1921 and died at the age of 59. He was the grandson of King of Botswana a large country the size of France but then one of the poorest and least populated with now some 2 million people with France 66 million and the subject to direct rule as a British Protectorate on the borders with South Africa who coveted the potential of its Mineral wealth which fortunately was vested in the indigenous people.  Where Seretse was aged 4 his father died so he was to inherit the title with his uncle appointed Regent. Seretse obtained a degree in South Africa, spent a year as an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford and then trained to become a Barrister in London.

He met his future wife at a dance arranged by a mission at which she was taken by her sister and although there was no immediate connection on dancing together a common interest in Jazz was discovered. The film portrays his future wife as” forward” in her interest for the time in question and gives the impression of a quick relationship leading to an engagement but in fact they courted for a period of a year, with opposition from her father who had served as an army officer in India and then worked in the tea trade and by his uncle primarily over race but she was also considered inferior in terms of social status. Following the request to return home he formally proposed marriage which was accepted in the knowledge that this would breaking with her family and moving to his homeland. There was immediate intervention by the British Colonial Office on learning news and the given the fascist racialist direction of South Africa and with the UK in significant debt because of the World War II there was fear South Africa would declare independence with the loss of cheap gold and uranium needed for Nuclear weapon development. Every obstacle and pressure was put on the marriage which went ahead as a civil ceremony.

Not knowing the extent to which the two sisters cooperated with the writer of the book  it is unclear how much some of the information provided is accurate but I am inclined to accept that opposition came from the Regent who attempted to steer the elders against Seretse becoming king and his wife the Tribal Queen and because of his status he would not only be allowed to attend functions restricted to the White community  but with her entitlement the mixed marriage would be continuously and openly evident.

Fortunately, in an interesting connection with democracy in in Greek city states, major decision affecting the tribal state were taken by all the men with the women, apparently, also in attendance and he could convince them that he would be a good king and leader but only with his wife alongside him. They agree but this was unacceptable to the British and they attempt a move which would bring the couple back to London, where it appears the plan was to offer him the position of Ambassador to Jamaica, preventing him returning to his homeland for a period of five years. Suspecting this was the intention Ruth remained on her own, although pregnant, and had difficulty in finding her feet on her own especially with her husband’s sister and the woman who had married in Regent who by this time had departed with his people to establish a separate community.

The government had established an “independent” commission to examine the position and the respective suitability of the couple and the findings of the report were suppressed for 30 years as it recommended in their favour. It is established that marooned in London without his wife and subsequently his wife and daughter Seretse has the support of Tony Benn, then the young back bench member of Labour Member of the House of Commons during the Atlee government who along with Fener Brockway took up the cause and brought a commitment from Tory opposition leader Winston Church to end the five-year exile. Ruth also made an influential appeal broadcast in the newsreel shown in cinemas between the two film performances, the only way in which the public could view news other than photographs in newspapers and magazine such as the popular Picture Post.

When Churchill was elected into power he reneged on the election promise and imposed a life ban citing the report and continuing opposition from the former Regent. The film reveals that in addition to concerns about the position of the South Africa Government the main reason the British Government wanted to impose direct rule is the prospect of valuable mineral being found in area which covered both countries. However, it was possible to established that under the original contract which formed the protectorate the indigenous people retained the mining rights and this would provide crucial in the deal which was subsequently agreed and in which Seretse gave up the controversial issue of Kingship proposing a more democratic and eventually independent state.  The couple then lived in Bechuanaland in Botswana for the rest of their live having three more children.

On return in 1956  as private citizens and  unsuccessfully attempting to become a cattle farmer he commenced an involvement in politics with election to the Tribal Council in 1957 forming the Bechuanaland Democratic Party in 1961, having great success in the national elections in 1965 which swept aside the socialists and pan African rivals he became Prime Minister of the territory and commenced to pressed for independence from his base in the newly established capital city of Gaborone  In 1966 The third poorest nation in the world became independent and Seretse became the first President, winning subsequent elections until he died in office in 1980, becoming the finest growing economy in the world with the discovering of Diamonds using the revues to invest in education, in health care and creating a infra  structure as well as developing other sources for  economic wealth and advancement, a crucial matter for countries  whose development has  been other time limited resources  such as oil, gas and other valuable minerals. He was responsible for a   lucrative trade deal with the European Economic Community.  The formal break with the Apartheid South Africa occurred in 1976 when a new currency was created to replace the Rand.

Ruth against expectations remained in Botswana after the death of her husband and was joined for the rest her life by her sister. One of her sons became president of Botswana in 2008 something she did not live to see. Overall the country has moved from one of the poorest to one of the richest in Africa although there is racism between tribes and HIV/Aids was rife although government action has started to change the position, the level of corruption and wealth creation by politicians is unknown or the extent to which here are deal with outside interests which work against the interests of most the people.

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