I read this book and saw the associated television documentary when they were released in the 90s. I had not previously heard the story of Ruth and Seretse Khama until I saw the two part television documentary. I then read the book for more detail and became fascinated by the story of a white British woman and the black man who met in central London and fell in love.
As this was the 1950s, their relationship was unusual but love is where it falls and the story of their determination to be together was, and is, inspiring.
They met in 1947 at a dance in London organised by the London Missionary Society. Seretse Khama was sent by his tribe to England to study, first at Oxford and then in London. He was an African Prince and heir to the Chieftanship in Bechuanaland in Southern Africa. They fell in love and planned to get married. They had to contend with disapproval from all sides.
South Africa was the main barrier to their happiness. The apartheid regime did not approve of a mixed marriage of a prominent leader of a country on their border. The British government sought to appease the South Africans and the elders of Seretse Khama’s tribe were also unhappy.
The fact that, with all the forces of powerful governments against them, they still got married is an inspiring story. His uncle who was acting as regent recalled him to Bechuanaland, expecting the marriage to be annulled. Instead, Seretse appealed to the tribe at village public meetings.
The British government recalled Khama and then refused to allow him to return to his country. It was to the shame of the Labour Party in Britain that this took place under a Labour government that had so many members who expected to see the dismantlement of the British Empire after the second world war. Yet South Africa was powerful and had reserves of gold and oil that Britain needed. Ruth and Seretse Khama were unimportant in the scheme of things.
‘A Marriage of Inconvenience’ included interviews with Ruth Khama. She died in 2002. Seretse Khama had died twenty years before her. In a final scene in the documentary, she stood on a hilltop near his memorial stone looking out over the plains. It was a moving end to a great love story.