23 May 2002

Rain lashes city as grand old Lady passes on

Lady Ruth Khama, wife of Botswana's founding president Sir Seretse Khama, died early on Thursday, May 23, in Gaborone Private Hospital. Lady Ruth, much respected and admired in her adopted country, had been ill for some time with cancer of the throat and had been losing weight over the last two months. She was admitted to hospital about six weeks ago. Lady Ruth was regarded as a force for good in Botswana. She was president of the Botswana Red Cross for three decades and patron of SOS Childrens' Villages for the last 20 years. Botswana citizens, hearing the news on Thursday, remarked that Wednesday night was the first rain in three months. A storm had uprooted trees in the capital city of Gaborone, which many saw as a significant coincidence.

The couple knew the sting of prejudice in the first years of their controversial marriage across what was then a firm colour line. "They knew it better than anyone," a family friend said on Thursday. They met while Khama was studying law in England. The British government prohibited them from returning to Botswana – under pressure from D F Malan's apartheid government. The couple also suffered antagonism from the Bangwato tribe at first, but Khama convinced the tribe he led to accept his white English wife. Lady Ruth leaves behind her son, Vice-President of Botswana, Lieutenant-General Ian Khama, twin sons Tshekedi and Tony, and daughter Jaqueline. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, but she is expected to be buried with her husband - who died in 1980 - in Serowe, the tribal capital of the Bangwato tribe, 350km north of Gaborone. (Cape Argus)

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