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Bechuanaland (Bamangwato Tribe Chieftainship)

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations on what date, and in what form, the news that Seretse Khama had been deposed permanently from the chieftainship designate of the Bamangwato was conveyed to the tribe; whether he is satisfied that the members of the tribe generally are aware of the British constitutional doctrine that the decisions of Governments are not binding on their successors; and what the reaction of the tribe to this decision has been.

A statement identical with that made by myself in this House on Thursday, 27th March, was read out on the same day by the Resident Commissioner at a kgotla in Serowe and by District Commissioners in other places in the Reserve. In addition, copies of the statement have been distributed.

I understand that some hostility was shown at three places in the Reserve, but that elsewhere the news was received without incident, and that the Reserve remains quiet.

I think it unlikely that members of the tribe generally are at all familiar with the more intricate points of United Kingdom constitutional procedure; but I have no doubt that tribal leaders are aware that Governments in the United Kingdom are free to modify decisions taken by their predecessors. The change in policy regarding the return of Tshekedi to the Reserve will, of course, already be common knowledge.

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether he and his noble Friend have been enabled to modify their views at all as a result of their discussions with the delegation from the tribe, and particularly with regard to the point made by the delegation that there has been a complete misunderstanding here of tribal custom and tradition about consultation by the Chief with the tribe before marriage?

No, Sir, I am not able to say that, but my noble Friend has seen the delegation, he is considering what they have said, and proposes to see them again at an early date.

Cannot the Under-Secretary at least say that he is prepared to keep his mind open on this matter in view of the representations made; and that if he finds it impossible at this time to allow Seretse Khama to return as Chief, that he will at least reconsider this matter, possibly at some suitable time in the future, so that, perhaps, some honourable post in his native land might be found for this man, who after all, as we all agree, has perpetrated no crime and many people think has a right to return?

The observations of the hon. Gentleman will be brought to the attention of my noble Friend.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that, according to newspaper reports, the Primate of all England will be visiting his noble Friend on this matter, that very few hon. Members of this House indeed have a very good conscience about this sad story; and that an opportunity may arise, following the visit of the Primate, for both major parties in this House to arrive at an honourable settlement in this sad matter?

I was not aware of the newspaper report to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I cannot speak about the consciences of hon. Members.