Kalahari Bushmen and Women of Botswana with whom Jeff Gruber worked and studied. Titi is at center, standing, in the gray coat. Photo courtesy Maureen Page
I don’t pretend to be a movie critic, but I do love movies and see lots of them.
So I just want to let you know about a wonderful movie that is playing right now at the Kahala Theatre. It’s called “A United Kingdom” and it’s the true story of the true love of Botswana’s (black) heir to the throne, who later became its first President, Seretse Khama, and his (white) British wife in the 1940s and onward. They suffered greatly for their love, and their love for their country, then called the British protectorate of Bechuanaland. It became Botswana when it achieved independence in 1966, largely due to the efforts of Seretse Khama.
Through exile and family strife, this fierce couple won the backing of the Tswana people and Seretse Khama also managed to protect the mining rights to Botswana’s diamonds.
It’s a story of great courage and determination. And it’s one of the great love stories of all time, a love story that affected an entire nation and shook the British Empire to its core.
To this day, Botswana is a shining example of fairness, democracy and integrity to all of strife-torn Africa.
Jeff and Maureen Gruber with their dog, Tladi, in 1975 Photo courtesy Maureen Page
I have close ties with and many fond memories of Botswana. I lived there from 1972-73, just a few years after independence came to the country. During those years Botswana was surrounded by the hateful practice of apartheid. South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were steeped in racial divides that completely separated black and white. And there, smack in the middle, was Botswana with its black President and white First Lady.
I was a pioneer for the Baha’i Faith and pioneers must work to make a living, so I worked for a tiny mimeographed newspaper called Puisano. We especially loved making it a front page story when someone was kicked out of the country for using the expletive “kaffir” to describe a black person. It was great when an Afrikaans woman used the term and was sent packing back to South Africa by a government and people that simply won’t put up with such prejudice.
Puisano was based in Selebi-Pikwe, a copper nickel mining town that no longer exists. I googled it and there is nothing but brush to remember it by. Where I lived, Mahalapye, is now a thriving town, thanks largely to mining and the railroad.
It was my great fortune to have known an American linguist, Jeff Gruber, and his lovely English wife, Maureen Page, both dedicated Baha’i pioneers for many decades and in several nations.
Jeff was an MIT-educated linguist studying the Khoisan Bushman languages of the Kalahari Desert. These are also called the “click languages” because many of the “words” are clicks achieved with the tongue making a variety of clicks against the roof of the mouth. This language had never been written – only spoken. Jeff was creating an alphabet so it could become a written language. He worked with a remarkable Bushman named Titi who was extremely smart and seemed to be able to do anything under the sun. He even saved me from a scorpion one night because of his amazing sixth sense of what was happening around him.
But I digress. The acting in “A United Kingdom” is fabulous, though quite understated. David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama and Rosamunde Pike plays Ruth Williams. Please go see it, or stream it or rent it when it’s available. You will learn a lot of history and watch the birth of Botswana, now a thriving, safe and secure African nation. A nation, by the way, that is now lead by Seretse Kahama’s son.