Ruth Williams Khama Biography: Family, Education, Marriage, Death, Philanthropy

A phenomenal woman that never let her guard down.

By  | May 20, 2020, 01:28 PM  | Top of The

Ruth Williams Khama, known as Lady Khama, was the wife of Botswana’s first president Sir Seretse Khama. Her political party was the Botswana Democratic Party and her inaugural service to the country of Botswana as The First Lady was from 1966 to 1980. She was also the Paramount Chief of the Bamangwato tribe. 

The union of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama was one of the most controversial of all time. It was not easily understood how a middle class white Englishwomen could be so well matched to an African chief-to-be. Despite the immense opposition, the couple stood the test of time, defying several governments and rocking a world already deep rooted in racial segregation. 

Ruth Williams Khama became affectionately known as Botswana’s Mother.

Let’s discover the fortitude behind the resolute life of Ruth Williams Khama.

Ruth Williams Khama Family

Ruth Williams Khama was born on the 9th December 1923 in Blackheath, Eltham South London to George and Dorothy Williams. Her father had served in the British Army as captain and later went on to work in the tea trade. Ruth had a sister, Muriel Williams-Sanderson, whom she always kept in close relation to.

Ruth Williams Khama

Ruth Williams Khama and Sir Seretse Khama had 4 children. Their first born was Jacqueline who was born in Bechuanaland in 1950. This happened shortly after Seretse was exiled. Their first son was Ian Khama who was born in England in 1953. Then came their twins Anthony and Tshekedi who were born in Bechuanaland in 1958 (Anthony was named after the man who supported their return from exile in the 1950’s). 

Ruth Khama remained in Botswana after her husband’s death, in the office in 1980 and she received the recognition of being ‘Mohumagadi Mma Kgosi’.

The national controversy surrounding their union in the 1940’s and 1950’s, made the couple inseparable until Seretse’s death in 1980 from cancer.
Ruth then lived on a large farm in Botswana, spending time with her children and grandchildren and dedicated the rest of her time and efforts to charitable causes.
Ian and Tshekedi Khama became Politicians in Botswana and Ian Khama then also became President of Botswana in 2008.

Ruth Williams Khama Education

Ruth Williams Khama attended Eltham Hill Grammar School and then served as an ambulance driver at multiple airfields in the South of England as a WAAF during the Second World War. She then worked for Cuthbert Heath, a firm of underwriters at Lloyd’s of London.

Ruth Williams Khama in her youthful days

Ruth Williams Khama Marriage

“I have met a girl and I think you should meet her. Somebody I should like to be my wife.” These were the words of Prince Seretse Khama to a close friend, Charles Njonjo, after having first laid eyes on Ruth.

“I saw a tall, well built, smiling African with wonderful teeth, broad shoulders and perfect manners”, said Ruth

Ruth was introduced to the then, Prince Seretse Khama, by her sister Muriel, at a dance at Nutford House, organised by the London Missionary Society. 

He was the son of chief Sekgoma the second, and studied law at the Inner Temple in London.

The unassuming pair shared a passion for many things, one of which was jazz music, they fell in love fast and made plans to marry.

Despite their racial differences, Seretse knew that he wanted Ruth as his wife and almost a year after they began dating, he asked her, “ Ruth, do you think you could love me?”

“She didn’t need to say yes,” Seretse recalled. “The light in her sky blue eyes, and the smile on her face told me what I wanted to know.”

Ruth and Seretse Khama

The couple went to a small restaurant in Soho and shared their first kiss after almost a year of dates and meetings in secret.

The couple, didn’t realise they were falling in love.

“But now that I think back on it,” Seretse said, “We both must have had subconcious fears of what the future held for us if we allowed ourselves to become serious. There was a feeling in my land – strong feelings about what was white and black…”

“But in matters of love the heart is seldom ruled by skin colouring,” Seretse said. “She did love me, and I knew that this was the woman I wanted for my wife – the woman I wanted to be my helpmate in bringing guidance and knowledge to my people in Bechuanaland.”

Ruth and her family
With the then recent institution of racial segregation in South Africa, known as apartheid, the South African government fiercely protested the impending marriage of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama as Botswana is a neighbouring country. They also faced objections from the tribal elders from Bechuanaland

In an attempt to prevent the marriage, the British government intervened and the Bishop of London, William Wand, said he would permit a church wedding only on agreement of the governement.

The couple married in September 1948 at Kengsington register office.
The minister of South Africa, Daniel Malan, described their marriage as “nauseating”.

However, President, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania said, “it was one of the great love stories of the world.”

Ruth Williams Khama Philanthropy

In 2002, Ruth Khama’s eldest son and current Patron of Trust, Ian Khama founded the Lady Khama Charitable Trust. It is a continuation of the charitable work that his mother fervently pursued.
Lady Khama Charitable Trust raises funds for existing Charities that are Botswana based. They focus on improving the lives of vulnerable women, children and people living with disabilities within Botswana. These organisations are often found in rural and remote communities that have difficulty in procurring support. They assist the beneficiaries most in need of help and support, focusing on local fundraising.

An estimated financial support of over $1.6million US dollars has been provided to the beneficiaries to date.

Ruth Williams Khama Death

At the age of 78, survived by her 4 children, Ruth Khama died of throat cancer in Gabarone.

She was buried in Botswana and layed to rest beside her husband.

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