Three Generations of Khamas and Netteltons in Botswana

Three Generations of Khamas and Netteltons in Botswana

Written by Beverley Eikli [nee Nettelton] in discussion with her father Spencer [Ted] Nettelton

My sister and I are the fourth generation of Netteltons to have spent time living in the Okavango Delta (and the third generation to have fallen in love there).

In 1899, my great-grandfather Clement Nettelton left his home in Basutoland (now Lesotho) and arrived in Botswana (then the Bechuanaland Protectorate), at the behest of Chief Khama III.

Chief Khama had requested Bechuanaland’s Colonial Administration to appoint, as head of the embryonic Bechuanaland Police Force, someone fluent in Sesotho. Sesotho, the language of the Basotho, is similar to Sechuana, the main language spoken in Bechuanaland and there was a preference for appointing Basotho police due to their lack of family connections in Bechuanaland. An outsider was also preferred for the role of Head of the Police force and my grandfather Clement, who was fluent in Sesotho and the head telegraphist in Maseru—an important means of communication between Southern Africa and London—was chosen.

The Boer War was in progress so travel was difficult. Clement took up his post as head of the Bechuanaland Police Force in Gaberone, at that time a small village on the railway line. My great-grandmother, Rose, (my dad’s grandmother) followed a few months later. With four children aged under ten, the three-day train journey was arduous and dangerous. There was no dining car and several bridges had recently been blown up by Boer commandos.

As Rose and Clement’s house was not yet ready, my great-grandparents took up residence with Colonel Ellenberger who later became Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner and whose son, Vivian, married one of their four children, my Great-Aunt Bimbi. I remember her as a very formidable old lady when I met her in London in the 1980s.

Another of their four children was, obviously, my grandfather, Gerald Nettelton, who became a District Officer (and, later, Serowe District Commissioner, then Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner).

As a young man, Grandpa Gerald went on many long and lonely treks of up to three months into the interior, mapping the tsetse fly belt, collecting hut tax and, on one occasion in 1917 while WWI was in progress, hunting suspected German dissidents who were believed to have crossed from North West Africa (now Namibia) into Botswana.

Usually he travelled with a dozen or so carriers and a Scotch Cart, or rode his detested mule since horses were susceptible to being bitten by the tsetse fly and therefore succumbing to sleeping sickness. Gerald travelled by night through tsetse fly country as the flies were not active then, and slept during the day.

He shot for the pot, the game being a welcome supplement to the meat supplies of his carriers and the villagers along his route.
My grandfather kept a pictorial diary between 1916 and 1922 (detailed in Volume V which is due to be published in 2021). It’s a rambunctious account by a very young man pouring out his loneliness and frustration but also his jubilation at his hunting exploits. It’s this diary, which I discovered in my early 20s, that inspired me to make my first trip from my home in Australia to the country where Grandpa spent his life and where my dad was born and brought up in the 1930s and 40s.

And it was in Botswana that I met my husband-to-be in the 1992, a handsome Norwegian bush pilot, while I was managing Mombo Safari Lodge, on the northern tip of Chief’s Island, in the beautiful Okavango.

But back to the Nettelton and Khama families three generations earlier.

My great-grandfather was a great friend of Chief Khama III and in the last three years that Great-Grandpa Nettelton was working for the government at the request of Chief Khama, he was promoted to District Commissioner in Serowe (he was still a police officer at the time), serving in this position until he died.

Dad remembers his grandmother telling him how Chief Khama would arrive in his horse-drawn buggy and lock himself in Great-grampa's study for hours. In those days the London Missionary Society was very strong in Bechuanaland and had strict rules about drinking, as did Chief Khama who didn't drink and who’d abolished Lebola (bride price) and banned alcohol.

On the basis of what his Granny Rose used to say, dad wondered if Chief Khama and grandpa enjoyed a little nip of the brandy bottle when they locked themselves away.

Anyway, the relationship between my great-grandfather, Clement Nettelton, and Chief Khama III, was an amicable one.

The Banishment of Seretse Khama

However, there would be constitutional upheaval when Clement’s son, my grandfather Gerald Nettelton, was one of three men appointed to the Harrigan Inquiry that ultimately recommended the banishment of Chief Khama’s grandson, Seretse Khama.

That’s all documented in my dad’s diaries, The Memoirs of Spencer “Ted” Nettelton.

Available here: https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=spencer+nettelton&search=Find+book

Lesotho’s Food for Work programme in the 1960s.

Lesotho’s Food for Work programme in the 1960s.

…in conversation with my father, Ted Nettelton, former District Commissioner, Mokhotlong, Lesotho.

I’ve seen the photos of literally hundreds of women wielding picks on rocky mountains passes, so I asked my father to tell me more about Lesotho’s Food for Work programme of the 1960s.

Here’s what he said:

The work gangs were made up of about 70% women and 30%men and we always started these projects in close proximity of the villages. While that entailed a lot of extra expense in getting bags of mealie meal, oil, etc, to often remote areas, it was very worthwhile as it enabled these women to achieve work for the five hours in the morning then go home and prepare the evening meal. They would get their food payment after three weeks and the food was delivered either to their village or within easy reach.

The plan was developed after I requested a meeting with the Director of the World Food program who came to talk at an Oxfam conference, and he enthusiastically supported the concept.

We spread the word about the scheme and there was no shortage of takers from the local community. We said we could work on a road or work or a dam to water stock, and it was the villagers who decided what they wanted to do. Usually there was no problem getting consensus and I believe the villagers felt great enthusiasm at the fact they were involved in making those decisions.

The implements were basic: wheelbarrows, picks, shovels. There was no machinery and the government gave us no help to buy the picks and shovels. It all came from Oxfam.

The programme started in the Mokhotlong district while I was DC. It continued during the time I was in Maseru working as Independence Officer and later, when I was secretary to Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan. The PM and I were really good friends and when I said I thought my role in a senior position government should go to a Masotho, he gave me the role of Director of the Food Programme. For the next two years we worked closely together so that when I left the country in 1969, 14,000 people were working in Food Programme every day and 10,000 kids were getting lunch every day.

I was responsible for the programme getting the food that it needed. I travelled a lot throughout the country dealing with these schemes right throughout Lesotho and I didn’t depend on District Commissioners any more.

One of the problems was that due to difficult weather conditions, was that the roads got washed away very easily. There just wasn’t the infrastructure to maintain those roads. Some lasted. For example the road from Tlokeng to Letseng la Terai – that we began entirely with food aid - enabled us to get a road 22 miles long that connected those 200-400 miners to the roadhead.

During my first winter in Mokhotlong, I’d got a message that the people in Letseng la Terai were starving and I appealed to Oxfam who financed buying the food. I got all the government mules I could find and with a couple of people from my office, we struggled to get the food up to Letseng la Terai. The snow was so deep we had to go to the edge of the ridges to get up. But we got that food through and got home very late. We didn’t have to do that the next year because the road was there.

In time, the scheme was quite well provisioned so when one gang had completed its three weeks – whereupon it would be paid in food - the next gang would take over the picks and shovels. By the time the PM came on board, we had by then built up a reasonable stock of picks and shovels.

Another initiative was improving prenatal and antenatal care with more clinics. I remember there was one very remote section: Beverley Boulevard I called it – which went to hell and gone. Right out there! I had been able to rope in the guy who was director of the Red Cross and was head of the Native Recruitment Corporation in Lesotho and he was very helpful and able to get funds from outside. For many women who wanted pre-natal care it was a 4-hour walk to the nearest point where they could get medical assistance, so we built clinics. How on earth we managed to get a midwife to stay in some of these remote outposts, I don’t know. But we did and the nurses’ salaries were paid for by the Red Cross. We had quite a reservoir of trained Basotho nurses in Lesotho we could recruit and while I was in Mokhotlong we were never without a nurse in each of these outposts.

You can read more in The Memoirs of Spencer “Ted” Nettelton