Naledi Khama, 85, is the only sister to the founding president of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama.
She is the only remaining child of Sekgoma II and Tebogo Sekgoma, and granddaughter to Khama the Great. In this interview she shares memories of growing up with her brother and her worry about her nephew President Ian Khama’s refusal to marry.
There is a twinkle in her eye when Mmashimane, as she is called, talks to Phillimon Mmeso in an interview at her home in Serowe.
Q. Good afternoon ma’am!
Good afternoon my child.
Q. To begin at the beginning – you lost your parents while still young. How was that time for you?
Being young I cannot remember that much. What I know is that our uncle (Tshekedi Khama) looked after us like one of his own. He gave us unconditional love and sent us to schools both locally and abroad. (Laughing) I don’t know whether he was using his resources or the ones left by our parents!
He had his own children but never mistreated us. We really enjoyed ourselves under his care.
Q. I heard that your brother Seretse was overprotective of you and would become furious if anyone beat or mistreated you. How was it?
I was the only close family he had and we were orphans and I understood his position. We were very close. He was like a father to me and I was the mother to him.
Q. Your parents were staunch members of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa yet when you were at St Joseph’s college you joined the Catholic Church. How did you family react?
I wrote to my brother (Seretse) telling him that I wanted to join the Catholic Church and he gave me the following answer: ‘You will be alone during judgment day. If you like it then you have my blessings.’
Q. In 1940 Seretse Khama was involved in a conflict with your father over marriage to Ruth Williams an English woman. I guess you supported your brother?
(Keeps silent for a while as if imagining the day) My son that is a very big question from a young person likes you. (Burst into laughter) I will never speak ill of my brother and uncle. I have rested that issue. Next question please!
Q. Mmashimane your brother later became the President of Botswana. It must have been a joyous moment in your life.
He wanted to serve Batswana in general. Yes I loved it but nothing changed – he was still my brother whom I looked up to and loved.
Q. His death on 13July 1980 is one of the saddest days in the history of this country, but to you it must have been even harder
(Takes a handkerchief and wipes her eyes and keeps quiet for a while. Drops her head and her daughter Claire chips in and says: “Tell him you were with him when he died.” )
I helped MmaTebogo (Ruth Khama) to look after my brother when he was sick. I was there at the State House together with his children. Even when he breathed his last I was there. Though I was now old, I still felt lost and abandoned because we were so close.
Q. Coming to your family your son was recently implicated in corruption. Did he tell you about the case and what advice did you give him?
Yes he came to and told me about the case. I told him that only the truth will set him free and must be honest. In the end he was vindicated.
Q. In 1998 we saw your nephew Ian Khama joining politics and becoming the Vice President and later the President in 2008. Did you give him any advice?
(Laughing) He is my brother’s son I am the first person to advise him! I told him that not everyone would accept his leadership style. He follows in his father’s footsteps in the way that he does not discriminate against other people. He treats everyone equally. That is how you build the nation, and is on the right track in doing that.
Q. Have you ever asked when he will get married and give Bangwato an heir?
Ijoo! I have tried many times and he is refusing, my child. His uncles asked me to question him but did not get through to him. The problem is that he wants us to look for a wife for him, but is difficult nowadays to do that. I have told him to ask Claire (first cousin to the president) to help him find one since they play together.
Q. What reasons did he give you?
He told me that his personal secretary Kgosi (Isaac Kgosi DIS director) has problems in his marriage and so he also does not want marital problems. I told him that marriages are different, but he did not relent.
Q. But it is alleged that he was once engaged to Dr. Nomsa Mbere. How true is that since you’re the only aunt?
I also heard that just like you, but he never told me. I do not even know that lady or even where she comes from.
Q. Maybe he wanted to surprise you just like your brother did to your uncle Tshekedi Khama!
(Laughs) Not him my son – he won’t do that to me! Maybe he told his cousin Claire since they play together who knows! (Calling her daughter)
Q. Are you happy with developments in your village Serowe?
Serowe has developed drastically and what I like most is that there is consultation.
Q. Can I please take your photos?
Photos! You know I am photogenic! (Laughing) don’t use the ugly one please!
Q. Thank you for the interview
Did you understand anything? Anyway thanks go well.