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The real family behind 'A United Kingdom' movie part 1

LEGACY: Marcus ter Haar, grandson of the iconic former president of Botswana Seretse Khama and his English wife Ruth (photo credit: Robert Weldon/GIA)

THE HISTORIC move from British control to a thriving independent country has seen Botswana go through some initially tough, yet always inspiring changes.

Late last year Pathe worked with the family of the late first president of Botswana and member of its royal family Seretse Khama and British wife Ruth, to produce an accurate cinematic portrayal of their life-changing experiences. The result was a movie with an important story to tell, A United Kingdom (out now on DVD and Blu-Ray) starring Brits David Oyelowo, star of Selma and Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl fame.

Living descendants of the Khamas have applauded the film for its accuracy and warmth and are encouraging those interested in learning more about the family to set aside some time to get lost in the vivid detail of The Colour Bar book by A. Susan Williams who captures things the filmmakers couldn't possibly have found time to include.

In the 1940s and '50s, the Khamas beat the racist and xenophobic powers-that-were in both Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland) and England in order to live together, raise a family and lead the newly-formed African independent country to a stable, peaceful and economically viable state that continues today.

The Voice spoke with Khama grandson Marcus ter Haar who currently lives in Botswana with his own wife Julie and their two children. In a story that loosely mirrored that of his grandparents, ter Haar met white British Julie whilst studying in England and persuaded her to move back to Botswana with him, where they are both extremely happy.


IN BLACK AND WHITE: From left - Marcus' mother Jacqueline at the age of six with her brother Seretse Jnr. (photo credit: The Sunday Times)

Speaking about how the project to capture his family's legacy began, ter Haar says:

"Press interest in the Colour Bar book was driven by the launch of the film...the publishers decided to re-release the book around the time A United Kingdom was launched. The book has been out for a long time before.

"We’re really pleased with the Pathe production. There were two attempts before to turn the book into a film, which were unsuccessful. That was just to do with financing and funding…I think this time, the difference was we had David Oyelowo as a principal driver to make sure all the right people were behind the film.

A proud Botswanan, ter Haar is glad that A United Kingdom and The Colour Bar are both based on a narrative that is often hidden from the mainstream:

"Good news African stories don’t really get a platform to be told.

"Botswana, on a global scale, doesn’t get that much attention, apart from people who have bought the previous versions of the book and the South African regional press."

South Africa was deep into apartheid when the Khamas took their stand against segregation and the UK Government were keen not to upset their financially beneficial relationship with South Africa by being seen as supporting the desire of Seretse and Ruth to start a life together.

Ter Haar and family are still active in the most influential political and industrial circles of Botswana and have spent time living and working all over the world:

"I was born in Botswana and spent my youth here, went to school in South Africa for a time, spent a short period of time in the UK and in Brussels and the rest of the time I spent in Botswana. After that I went to the University of East Anglia and Norwich, went back home for eight or nine years, worked with De Beers diamond company in London, then transferred back to Botswana to work with the De Beers diamond mining company.


REGAL: From left - Actress Terry Pheto and Marcus ter Haar at a screening of A United Kingdom (photo credit: The Sunday Times)

"Julie and I met in Norwich during our first year at uni. I was an international student...in most UK universities most international students get together on campus a week before the UK students arrive, just so we can acclimatise.

"Later, Julie arrived and studied the development of economics like me. We began as friends.

"Julie was fond of issues relating to Africa and through that we had a connection. It wasn't necessarily love at first sight but she certainly got my attention - I wasn’t expecting to eventually meet my future wife at uni!"

"We’ve both grown-up in an era where racial tolerance is vastly different than it was for my grandparents. Even in places like Norwich which is not ethnically diverse, broadly speaking there is a high degree of racial tolerance.

"There were times when I felt slight animosity. In South Africa at school there were a few racial slurs thrown about.

"Botswana always been very racially tolerant since the early '60s which is the legacy of Seretse.

"We’re now 50 years old as a country. When I was younger I had ambitions of perhaps transitioning into government, but now I'm enjoying myself in the private sector.

"I think most people have considered politics at one time or another in their lives, whether half-heartedly or not. Whether or not I would make the sacrifices I would need to make in terms of my family and so on, in order to get into politics at this stage, I don't know.

"It’s very difficult to divorce your family legacy from your influences growing-up and me, like a lot of young Botswanas at the time, were driven to do the best we could for our country. There is a deep sense of pride about what the country has achieved against all odds.

"Through sensible and ethical decision making, the country has managed to create a fairly stable economy - we’ve set ourselves apart a little bit."

A United Kingdom is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray, whilst The Colour Bar by A. Susan Williams is on sale now from all good book retailers.

To read part 2 of our interview with Marcus, check back at 6am GMT tomorrow.

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