Monday, March 13, 2017

The Story Behind A United Kingdom

The film, A UNITED KINGDOM, is a love story between Seretse Khama (who is the Prince of Bechuanaland, a UK protectorate) and Ruth Williams, (a clerk at Lloyd's of London).

Seretse was a black African and Ruth was white and English. Which was a bit of a shock in 1947, when they met at a London Missionary Society dance.

According to Jessamay Calking, writing in the Daily Mail, in post WWII, blacks made up only 0.02 percent of the population in England, and the interracial couple faced enormous prejudice. In fact, Seretse's uncle conspired with the UK government to stop their planned wedding. He succeeded, but Seretse and Ruth married in a civil ceremony.

Ruth, in particular, paid a high price for her love. She was sacked from her job and her family disowned her.

But Seretse also had a tough road ahead of him.

In a series of tribal meetings back in Bechuanaland, he had to convince leaders that he was fit to govern them. Eventually, in 1949, over 9,000 men turned out to hear Seretse's appeal to accept him as their chief and honor his wife. They overwhelmingly agreed.

After this meeting Seretse telegraphed his wife to join him in his homeland. Initially it was hard for Ruth to gain acceptance, but after her pregnancy, the women of Bechuanaland softened, soon to be followed by the men. However, the British government, bowing to pressure from South Africa tricked Seretse into coming back to London. (South Africa - which borders Bechuanaland - had a deeply entrenched system of apartheid. It did not formally bring about a democracy until 1992, under international pressure to do so, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years in prison).

Seretse was then banished for five years from going back to Bechuanaland. Later, when Winston Churchill's party won the election, Churchill had Seretse banned for life, which effectively separated him from his family indefinitely.

Fortunately, during this time, Seretse was allowed to return to his country to follow up on a lawsuit he had begun against his uncle (the same one who tried to keep his marriage from happening).

While Seretse was reunited with his family, their first child was born. But because of Seretse's banishment, he had to take his family back to England with him in order to remain together.

It wasn't until 1956 that Seretse and his wife were allowed to return to his home country for good, but as private citizens, stripped of his royalty.

According to Wikipedia, in 1961 Seretse got back into politics, establishing the Nationalist Bechuanaland Democratic Party. He was elected the first Prime Minister in 1965 and pushed for independence from the UK. In 1966 his country gained independence, changed its name and elected Seretse the first president of Botswana.

As evidence of showing what a remarkable leader Seretse became, when he was elected, Botswana was the third poorest country in the world. But he pushed for economic development (producing beef, cooper and diamonds). The discovery of the Orapa diamond deposits resulted in Botswana becoming the fastest growing economy in the world between 1966 and 1980.

Seretse also upheld democracy and non-racism within a portion of Africa that was raging with civil war. (Remember that Botswana borders South Africa). And he insisted upon strong measures to keep corruption at bay. All of these efforts led to economic prosperity and peace among his people.

Seretse and Ruth had three children. He died in 1980, at age 59, due to prostrate cancer.

Calkin's article points out that Ruth remained in Botswana after Seretse died, living alone on a farm and devoting her time to women's rights. She passed away in 2002.

All of Seretse and Ruth's children live in Botswana. Ian, their eldest son, is the fourth president of Botswana.

As for the film, A KINGDOM UNITED, director Amma Asante was quoted by Calkin as saying she was drawn to the project because of her admiration for Seretse and the love he had for his wife. "It reflects on how he was able to love his people. He was an honest man who had great integrity. And I think that integrity is something the (Botswanaian) country has been able to benefit from ever since."

Calkin quotes David Oyelowo (who plays Seretse in the film) as saying of Asante "I always hoped to find a female director to do this film. I wanted it to be unashamed. I've been a huge beneficiary of working with female directors."

Rosamund Pike, (who plays the part of Ruth), was quoted as saying "I do feel that in general, the cinema needs more love stories... It's one of the most deeply human things you can express on screen."

And Calkin's piece in the Daily Mail wraps up by quoting the real Seretse Khama, from Susan Williams' book Colour Bar (upon which A KINGDOM UNITED is based.) "Bitterness does not pay. Certain things have happened to all of us in the past and it is for us to forget those (things) and look to the future. It is not for own benefit, but it is for the benefit of our children and our children's children that we ourselves should put this world right."

Here's the trailer to A United Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Getty Images - top photo
Africaok - image of family

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