The Crusader Newspaper Group

A United Kingdom is great film about history of Botswana

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

“A United Kingdom” is a movie about the imminent king of Botswana played by David Oyelowo who goes to London to study to be an attorney, before he is due to arrive back home in 1948 to take up the throne, which had been passed on to him by his late father 20 years prior, he falls in love with a British woman. Therein lies the problem—not only for Prince Seretse Khama but also for Rosamund Pike, who plays Ruth Williams.

Prince Khama doesn’t see anything wrong with the fact that he picked a white woman to be his bride, until he returns home to Botswana, and his uncle, who has been holding down the throne for him, keeping it warm until his return, rejects the marriage and calls for a vote from the folks in the village. Amazingly, the folks in the village vote to keep him on, even with the interloper known as Ruth Williams.

However, the British Government, which still had a hold on Botswana, tries at every turn to keep him from his rightful place on the throne. At one point, when Prince Khama has gone back to London, he is banished from returning to Africa for life. While he is summoning all the power that he can to get back to his wife, she gives birth to a daughter.

Now it’s not like she has such a great time on her own in Africa, because the folks don’t take to her kindly—that is mostly the women folk. Many, including the Prince’s sister, can’t believe why he would choose a white woman for his beloved wife. But, as it goes, he fell in love, and that is all that matters. Also, the fact that South Africa had recently implemented the system of Apartheid meant that sexual relations between different races was outlawed.

Ruth Williams and Prince Khama5
RUTH WILLIAMS AND David Oyelowo share a great moment in London, before they face the bad news upon their arrival in Bostwana as a married couple. 

As the story unfolds in “A United Kingdom,” after a few years, Prince Khama is finally allowed back into Africa, just around the time that diamonds are detected in Botswana. So for the privilege of mining in his homeland, the Prince is allowed to return back to his wife and family, in order to take over as the ruler of the country.

After a Google search, I learned a bit about Botswana, which was originally called Bechuanaland. Some of this may be repetitive, but it is worth knowing. I admit, however, that some of this may be up to discussion, because there are a few online interpretations of just how everything progressed.

Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama was the first president of Botswana. Born into one of the most powerful of the royal families of what was then the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, he was educated abroad in neighboring South Africa and in the United Kingdom. He married a British woman, Ruth Williams, who initially was controversial because of the English ancestry. She eventually became popular among his people. Prince Khama led his country’s independence movement. He founded the Botswana Democratic Party in 1962 and became Prime Minister in 1965. In 1966, Botswana gained independence, and Prince Khama was elected as its first president. During his presidency, the country underwent rapid economic and social progress.

Between 1966 and 1980 Botswana had the fastest-growing economy in the world. This growth was primarily driven by mining, and the government acted to gain a greater percentage of its revenue. Although we have all heard about blood diamonds and corruption within the diamond mining fields in South Africa, it is recorded that Prince Khama instituted rigid measures against corruption. However, the movie didn’t detail this fact. It ended with the revelation that diamonds had been found in Botswana. If one didn’t know any better or research further, one would just associate this new found mining discovery with blood diamonds. As far as I am concerned, they were still blood diamonds, because I will never believe that the Africans in Botswana could ever get paid equitably for the “gold” that was found on their land. “A United Kingdom” is playing in local theaters.

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