Last week I accidentally found the movie The United Kingdom and was immersed in the historical fiction based on Susan Williams’ book Colour Bar: The True Story of a Love That Shook an Empire. Based on the lives of Prince Seretse Khama (who would later become the first President of Botswana) and white English-born Ruth Williams who met and fell in love in 1940s Britain, the story is a powerful statement of overcoming racism and persevering for independence, but it is also a poignant love story across cultural, racial, and political lines.
I was reminded of the movie when Book Browse featured the book as one of its “five great book club books that are now movies.”
“…they were met with overt racism by the people and governments of both Britain and southern Africa; but with great dignity and extraordinary tenancity they, and the Bangwato people, overcame prejudice in their fight for justice–which, ultimately, led to independence for the country of Botswana…”
Although I am only half through the book, the movie seems to have been accurate in depicting the series of trials overcome by the couple, including the efforts of British government officials, family friends and church figures trying to prevent the marriage. After the marriage Britain attempted to separate the couple by luring him to London and then banning his return.
South Africa, which borders Bechuanaland, and was in the throes of apartheid, imposed economic pressure on Britain, adding to the political turmoil. Britain’s secret Harragin special inquiry was to decide whether Seretse was fit to discharge his duties as his country’s Chief. (The report reminded me of today’s secret political papers which later expose ulterior government motives). The inquiry found in his favor but argued that South Africa’s opposition to his marriage, and therefore his chieftainship, constituted enough reason to bar Khama from returning to his country. After seven years in exile, and with the help of friends in high places, the shameful report finally was released and Pariament acceded to Botswana’s right to mineral rights – both actions insuring the leadership and prosperous future of an independent country.
After his return home, Seretse Khama was elected first democratic head of the newly created nation state of Botswana, which he ruled for over 20 years before his death in 1980. Ruth took her place as the mother of the nation during Seretse’s life and after, and their son is now the fourth President of Botswana.
Whether you read the book (only available as a ebook) or watch the movie, this is a story worth finding, not only for its historical significance but also for its powerful message of love and redemption against insidious politics and arrogant men.