Voice Editor Emang Bokhutlo visited The Khamas’s residence in Ruretse for an intimate chat with Thea, the wife of Tshekedi Khama, the minister of Wildlife and Tourism and brother to the president, Ian Khama.
And yes, the open and honest conversation turned out to be more fascinating than you would have imagined!
In this momentous sit-down, the woman who could easily become this country’s next First Lady talked about living in the shadows of the Khama name, her relationship both with her husband and her extended family, her passion for making the world a better place for women and girls and of course her incredible love for wildlife and conservation.
Q. As a life coach you have a passion for helping people find who they are. Who are you?
A. I have been asked this question a lot lately. I can’t be defined by any one particular expression. I can wake up and say, “ what if I’m love today? And then go on to express myself as such. I am whom I choose to be at a particular moment or day. I am a mother, a businesswoman, and a wife.
Q. Have you ever felt overshadowed by your husband’s identity or struggled to express yourself out of the Khama identity?
A. I have felt that way in the past, but where I am right now having worked on myself so much in the past years I have realized I am not defined by anything. My hope is that people would engage with me as Thea, and as another human being sharing the same environment with them. That’s what I am putting myself out there for and I say let’s have a conversation and find out who the next person is and what they are about.
Q. How does it feel to be married into Bangwato Royalty? Do you feel like a princess, some kind of a princess Diana experience Maybe?
A. My background is like that. I came from a difficult background. I was raised all over the world moving around a lot, broken homes, leaving home at 15 because of an abusive background. I was adopted so I went on a journey to find my family when I was 21. TK actually helped me do that, He paid for me to go and find my biological family. Yes I have known him that long.
Q. Did you ever find your Biological parents and how was that experience?
A. Yes I did. It felt amazing. It felt validating. I felt my roots. My roots are Mexican- American. But it was also very traumatic because what I found was not so nice. I found my whole family was drug addicts and I learnt most of them were in prison in maximum security. It was my first experience going into prison so I’m writing a book so people can get to know me better.
Q. How was your reception into the Khama family?
A. (Smiles) I met TK when I was 18 here and we were friends. I came to Botswana at 17 with my mother who was doing human resources work for USAID. You have to understand that I was this young American girl with no concept of royalty and my husband was much older than me, 12 years older than me. So the reception was lukewarm. But we got married in April 1988. We had an amazing traditional wedding ceremony in Serowe, 4000 people attended. I was just blown away by the support.
Q. Do you have a personal relationship with your brother in law, the president Ian Khama?
A. What can I say? No! Our lives are busy and we don’t get the opportunity much except for birthdays and Christmases. He invites us on holidays and we do go places with him but there’s not much closeness there but you have to understand that we are not against one another. There’s just not much time spent.
Q. How about other extended family members?
A. Anthony is a twin so he is jealous that I came along (Laughs) On a serious note Anthony and us have raised our kids together. Our Kids are incredibly close. They live nearby. Jacqline is definitely the one with the brains in the family. She is a very astute woman and very eloquent.
Q. How has being a minister’s wife changed your life?
Big time. I’m in the public eye more and then there’s being an understanding that there’s outside expectations. He travels more and we see him less. It feels a lot like when we first started Energym in 1988 in terms of how busy we have become but I’m grown now and I have different perspectives and and I’m not getting the stresses I used to get then although his time on weekends is not his own anymore and, people are calling all the time and he is very open and engaging with people more, which is different from back then.
Q Talking about travel, I have noticed that you are the only Minister’s wife that travels with their spouse. What do you think of that culture whereby Ministers and Mps do not travel with their spouses on official trips?
A. Why’s that? You tell me. I think it’s strange and I would like to see that changing. I have already started a conversation around the subject through my husband. I hear some are opposed to the idea but we shall keep talking about it and hopefully win them over. Family is important. My father-in law travelled with his wife so it has not always been the case.
Q. Have you ever entertained the idea that you could end up as the First Lady?
TK has always been ambitious, its just that at one point he had to put his political career on a backburner to give way for his brother. So yes it has crossed my mind but I don’t know what’s gonna happen so I choose not to engage with that fully yet at this point. What I know though is that I do have a heart for the people and a heart for seeing people thrive and develop things on their own and getting really true about what it is they are creating.
Q. Let’s talk about your love for animals and your role as the ambassador for Elephants and Rhinos.
A. TK couldn’t have been in a better ministry in my opinion. I love animals and I get to engage with that and I love it. I have been asked to be the ambassador for the global march for elephants and rhinos just to raise awareness so there’s a march on the 10th of October. Botswana is doing well but we need to raise awareness and give people an idea on what contribution they can make at individual level.
Q. You love rhinos and elephants but you have a passion for youth empowerment. Tell us about your Teen Spirit empowerment Camps?
A. I started running 4-day camps for teens working with schools as part of my own way of giving back in 2010. I would bring a group of 10 children here at my house and have discussions with then on self-discovery and we engaged with poetry and writing and art. Some of the topics we discussed included bullying and teenage pregnancy. This project has grown so much over the years and schools have taken it to another level. As a qualified consciousness coach I have since expanded my scope to work with corporate women.
Q. Thank God is Friday, What does a society woman like yourself get up to on Fridays
A. I’m a busy person so Friday is a working day. I have a gym to run, I give talks, attend meetings and stuff like that. I wish I could spend more time out here in the bush to enjoy this place more.
Pics: Jennifer Letshwiti