Gaborone, Kingdom of Botswana
23 July 1976
The first time Queen Alexandra had gone to Gaborone, she'd been
a seven-year-old girl accompanying her father on a business
trip. In those days, Botswana was still the Protectorate of
Bokwanaland - protected, so the British said, from the Goldies
and the Portuguese. Gaborone had been a town - a village,
really - of no more than five thousand; there were a few brick
buildings where the British had their offices, and the rest was
dirt roads and huts.
Now, Gaborone had a hundred thousand people, half of whom had
arrived within the past ten years. The outskirts of the city
always seemed to look half-finished, with industrial zones and
apartment buildings under construction all around the municipal
greenbelt. Alexandra didn't care for the Gaborone newtowns -
they were block upon block of dreary sameness, and she could
only imagine how they seemed to people who grew up in the
limitless Kalahari - but they weren't the shantytowns they would
have been in other African cities. Almost alone among African
nations, Botswana had the wealth and expertise to build its
The person primarily responsible for that was sitting next to
Alexandra now. Prime Minister Seretse Nkate had met her at the
airport and driven her into town himself; as always, he had no
driver. He claimed, as he had for as long as Alexandra had
known him, that he drove in order to focus his mind, but she
suspected the real reason was that servants embarrassed him.
Nkate was no more born to power than Alexandra herself; he had
grown up with the herds and come of age as a miner. He had gone
to the evening classes the mining company offered and attended
political meetings; he'd become a member of Parliament, leader
of the opposition and, for the past sixteen years, Prime
Minister. There were still echoes of miners' slang in his
speech, and he'd long since stopped trying to conceal them.
That wasn't a bad thing - it helped him win elections - and it
may have been one of the reasons for their mutual affinity.
Alexandra and Nkate had been friends since her election to the
throne, and over the past five years they'd become rather more.
He'd been an invaluable adviser to her in the days when she'd
had to learn practical politics on the job - and, even more,
he'd been a shoulder to cry on. From this relationship of
necessity had come the discovery of the many other things they
had in common, including attraction to one another. And from
that had come Alexandra's gratitude for Nkate's minor
eccentricities; his aversion to personal servants meant that
there was nothing unusual about their being alone together. She
had a theory about how her strict Dutch Reformed constituents
would view an out-of-wedlock liaison with a foreign head of
government, but she didn't care to put it to the test.
The two of them passed most of the drive into Gaborone in
silence; they had reached the stage of their relationship where
they could communicate without speaking. They drove through the
newtowns and the greenbelt, past the middle-class homes of
Naledi and into the center city, a place of office buildings and
cosmopolitan retail shops. He parked the car in Tlokweng Road,
a main street near the government district and the location of
their favorite restaurant.
The Mopane was another of the ways Botswana was different. In
most African countries, whether settler states or post-colonial,
African food was considered fit only for peasants, and the fine
restaurants were without exception European. Botswana, though,
had something the other countries did not - self-confidence and
pride. And, in Mothudi Tsholofelo, it had a chef who realized
that most fine cuisines were really tarted-up peasant food, and
that local ingredients were more than capable of being refined
for discriminating palates.
The centerpiece of the dinner was a wooden bowl filled with a
cleverly seasoned stew of pumpkin, onions and antelope meat.
Next to this was a plate of mielie cakes - a traditional recipe,
but one that Tsholofelo made on the griddle rather than deep-
frying. They came out light and airy, with a touch of scallion;
a perfect accompaniment to the stew. A plate of fresh fruit sat
on the other side of the bowl, along with pitchers of redbush
tea and local beer to wash it all down.
"Ke itumetse," Alexandra said - "thank you." She saw Nkate's
smile of approval; he had made a project of teaching her
Setswana, and she had become fluent enough to use it in everyday
conversation. He saluted her with a fried mopane caterpillar in
groundnut sauce; they were a delicacy in Botswana, but one she
had not yet summoned up the courage to try.
Dinner conversation was light, centered on tomorrow's signing
ceremony. It had taken two years and half a dozen revisions,
but she'd finally pushed the customs union treaty through the
Volksraad; some of the joint authorities and trade courts would
take time to implement, but the agreement would enter into force
tomorrow. This was an area where she and Nkate saw eye to eye;
neither country was tied into one of the big imperial trade
networks, so the only real way to grow was to increase their
domestic markets. Botswana would benefit first - with the Cape
border erased, it would have duty-free access to the sea - but
the wealthy Tswana would be an important market for Cape goods,
and would begin to take up the slack in the Cape industries'
The only problem was that Botswana was so _small_ - its people
were well-off by African standards, but there were less than
eight hundred thousand of them. Hereroland and Ovamboland had
expressed an interest in joining the union, and Alexandra would
do her utmost to bring them in, but they were also small, and
they were very poor. The Goldies - they were richer, certainly,
but did the Cape want to have a white-ruled police state like
Esperanša as a partner or to become a party to Alberta's civil
war? No, Natal was the prize - Transkei and East Griqualand and
Sotholand, too, but especially Natal. Natal was rich, it had
five million people, and it had United Empire trade privileges.
Natal was the key, but it was also a historical rival of the
Cape, and Alexandra and Nkate wondered what incentives might
make membership worth its while.
After dinner, they returned to Nkate's car. Alexandra expected
to be taken to the royal palace, where an apartment had been
prepared for her visit, but instead the car headed out of the
center city and up the Notwani Road. Nkate pulled in at a
modest house near the greenbelt and opened the car door for her
to exit; she realized, before he said anything, that the house
In Cape Town, before she had become Queen, Alexandra had known
bachelors' apartments, and she could tell at once that Nkate's
house was another of the species. _Not even a maid_, she
realized - she was surer than ever that her suspicion about his
dislike of servants was a correct one. He cleared a chair of
scattered papers and motioned her into it, disappeared into the
kitchen and returned a moment later with another cup of bush tea.
She inhaled the smell of the tea and took a sip, and they sat
for a moment in companionable silence. "Alexandra," he said
finally, "I'd like you to listen to me."
"Alexandra, I'm fifty-eight years old, and I'm not getting any
younger. I've been meaning to have this conversation for some
time, but I've always found some excuse - after the negotiations,
after the hearings on the treaty, after the vote in Parliament.
It's always been a bad time; there's always been something that
I didn't want to complicate with personal matters. But I've
realized that there will always be complications, and I'm at the
age where I don't have time to wait."
"Alexandra, I'm a lonely man - you know that - and you also know
that I love you dearly. Will you marry me?"
Alexandra sat in silence for a moment and suddenly burst out
laughing. She saw the hurt look on Nkate's face, and rose
quickly from her chair to take him in her arms.
"Oh, no, I'm not laughing at you," she said, kissing him on the
forehead. "Of course I'll marry you. But we'll _have_ to tell