Tshekedi Khama Biography: Birth, Family, Career, Controversy, Death

Tshekedi the visionary chief

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

Tshekedi Khama was the regent-king of Bamangwato tribe of central Botswana in 1926 after the death of Sekgoma the second. He was uncle and chief guardian to the first Botswana president Sir Seretse Khama. He established the Pilikwe village in 1952 during his self-imposed exile and shaped the future of Botswana, most especially in the education and mining industries.

With the passing of 6 decades since the ruling of one of Botswana’s most visionary chiefs, we take an in-depth look into life Tshekedi Khama:

Tshekedi Khama Age, Family

Tshekedi Khama was born to Khama the 3rd, known as Khama the Great, and his fourth wife Semane Setlhoko. He was born in Serowe, Botswana. He was named by his father over his son Sekgoma the 2nd. Having had a quarrel with him, the decision was made, however after a reconciliation between the two in 1916 the decision was set aside.

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Tshekedi Khama studied at Fort Hare University College with the intent of matriculating. However, at the age of 21 years, just before he was set to sit for his matriculation examinations, he was called to assume regency for his minor nephew, Seretse son of Sekgoma the 2nd who had died in November 1925.

In 1936 Tshekedi married Bagakgametse Moloi. Their marriage however was dissolved quickly and he then married Ella Moshoela in 1938. The couple had 5 children together. 

Princess Semane, chief Khama’s daughter, married the king of the Royal Bafonkeng nation in South Africa. The current king of Bafokeng, Leru Molotlegi, is among the descendants of this union.

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In 1923 on the death of Khama the 3rd, Sekgoma succeeded him as king, but his reign ended early with his death in 1925. Sekgoma’s heir was the young Seretse Khama, and while still a minor, was guided by Tshekedi who was named the regent for the duration of Seretse’s minority. To assist during Tshekedi’s absence at the Native College, a regency council was named.

Tshekedi Khama Career

On the 9th January 1926, Tshekedi was installed regent and promptly dissolved the regency council. He banished the very influential Ratshosa family in order to consolidate his position and he further destroyed their property.

The Ratshosa family sued Tskekedi and their case ultimately prevailed in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The incident prompted Sir Charles Rey, the British Resident Commissioner, to try to curb the chief’s powers, as a result of which the two men frequently clashed.

Pic cred: thepatriot.co.bw

In 1933, Tshekedi had Phineas McIntosh, a white man, publicly flogged, on the account of him assaulting a young Mongwato youth. This was used as an opportunity for Rey to suspend Tshekedi as regent. He was exiled in Francistown for his decision, and he had the Royal Marines sent from Cape Town in South Africa. The acting high commissioner, Admiral Edward Evans, led the inquiry. This led to Tshekedi being deposed from his office. He was however, quickly reinstated. 

Tshekedi opposed both the dimunition of chiefly authority and attempts by South Africa to annex the pictorate, doing this as regent. He also strongly supported the Bristish during World War 2 and encouraged enlistment in the British forces.

Tshekedi was a lobbiest in Britain against incorporation of High Commission Territories in the Union of South Africa and battled on behalf of a Bechuanaland Legislative Council and an independent South West Africa. Bamangwato had only two primary schools in Serowe when Tshekedi took over as regent. He then dedicated his time to building more schools within the Bamangwato reserve.
In objection to apartheid in South Africa, he then built Moeng College to stop children from his territory from attending school in South Africa. This college went onto produce some of Botswana’s most influential people including Botswana’s 3rd President Festus Mogae and real estate mogul David Magang. 

Dr Michael Crowder presented a paper that noted that Botswana owes it’s minerals wealth and economic success “to the efforts of a remarkable man who died 7 years before independence and 16 years before production began at the Selibe Phikwe copper mine: Tshekedi Khama.”

The University of Botswana’s former Head of History said that Tshekedi Khama, at the young age of 20 years, took over as chief and reversed everything. 

Tshekedi Khama Controversy

Opposing Seretse Khama’s Marriage

Tshekedi’s nephew, Seretse Khama, was studying in England in 1948 and informed his uncle that he intended to marry Ruth Williams, a white English woman. Tshekedi strongly opposed the marriage between the two and so did the South African and Rhodesian governments at the time. Initially, Tshekedi managed to maintain his support, however, at a Kgotla, Seretse managed to secure the support of his people. 

This happened on 20th June 1949 and some suspected that Tshekedi opposed Seretse in order to secure the kingship for himself. Tshekedi and some of his followers went into temporary exile on Rametsana after Seretse was acclaimed paramount chief. Seretse and Tshekedi were both exiled in 1950 by the Britsih, although Tshekedi was allowed to return in 1952 as a private citizen. 


In 1953, the British government appointed Tshekedi as a member of the ‘African Authority’, along with his relative Rasebolai Kgamane. In 1956, he reconciled with his nephew Seretse and went to London to secure the latter’s return. After Seretse Khama’s return, the 3 men formed a triumvirate at the centre of the protectorate political life. Tshekedi then also pushed for the consolidation of local democracy and constitutional change. This eventually led to the protectorate’s independence as Botswana.

An important mineral agreement was initiated by Tshekedi shortly after the conclusion. This happened with the Rodesian Selection Trust in 1959.

Tshekedi Khama Death

With the Rodesian Selection Trust, Tshekedi Khama’s health deteriorated in 1959 and he was rushed to London for medical treatement. He died at the London Clinic of kidney failure on the 10th June 1959. His body was returned for burial in front of a large crowd at the family’s burial ground on 17th June 1959.

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