HomeWorld News'They need to apologise': Africans on the UK monarchy

‘They need to apologise’: Africans on the UK monarchy

By Lebo Diseko and Catherine Byaruhanga

BBC News, Johannesburg and Kampala

MJ MojalefaImage source, Chris Parkinson/ BBC

Image caption,

MJ Mojalefa says his listeners want an apology from the British Royal Family

At a community radio station in the heart of Johannesburg’s bustling Hillbrow neighbourhood, MJ Mojalefa is hosting a phone-in following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

The 22-year-old DJ wants his large youth audience to share their thoughts on the legacy of the British empire, which once included South Africa.

“We were colonised by the British and [the Queen] never changed the nature of that relationship,” one caller tells him, between the thumping baseline of Amapiano music.

“People have moved on, and the past is in the past,” says another.

As for MJ Mojafela, he wants an apology from the new King Charles III: “Most people are saying the Queen didn’t apologise – and that is what they wanted from her.”

South Africa became a republic in 1961. By then the enforced racial segregation of apartheid had been law for 13 years, nine of them with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch.

For many young South Africans that history has left them grappling with how to reconcile the painful past with the present.

That is a sentiment heard again when speaking to artists Mzoxolo “X” Mayongo and Adilson De Oliveira. Their work focuses on decolonisation.

“When we look at South African history, we don’t just look at it in isolation,” says De Oliveira. “One thing leads to another.”

Speaking to his grandmother about the experience of living under apartheid brought that into sharp focus for Mayongo. “You can’t take away the scars. And how do you heal those wounds?” he asks.

Image source, Chris Parkinson/ BBC

Image caption,

Mzoxolo “X” Mayongo’s (left) and Adilson De Oliveira’s (right) artwork has looked at how Black African identity was stripped by colonialism

But both say that this moment presents an opportunity for King Charles III to build a new relationship with the continent.

“We’re not all doom and gloom,” says De Oliveira. “We think that the future relationship the monarchy could possibly have with Africa could be one of taking responsibility – of coming to the table to have this conversation with African countries.”

Asked what that would look like, they both say they want conversations about reparations, the return of artefacts and the return of mineral resources, for example the largest diamond ever found – the Star of Africa which is now part of the British Royal Family’s Crown Jewels.

Those calls for restitution from the British monarchy for colonialism are echoed further north in Nairobi.

Kenya saw its own transition this week when William Ruto was sworn in as the country’s fifth president since independence from the UK in 1963.

Despite the obvious focus on their own changing head of state, the death of the Queen still made front-page news in Kenya. It has also led to a renewed debate about the country’s relationship with its former colonial ruler.

“It’s sad that we lost a soul,” 30-year-old Nelson Njau says outside the 60,000-seat Moi International Sports Centre where President Ruto was sworn into office.

“But what they did to the African culture, to the African nations, to our wealth, to our organisation of society – really they need to come out and apologise to us.”

Image source, Joe Barrett/ BBC

Image caption,

Sammy Muskoya (left) and Nelson Njau (right) want the British monarchy to apologise for colonisation

Next to him, 29-year-old Sammy Musyoka nods his head in agreement: “We still feel we’re treated as subjects not as equals.”

That sentiment of being treated as a subject is rooted in historical trauma. Just a few months after Queen Elizabeth II became monarch, Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion against British rule was brutally repressed, with the Kenya Human Rights Commission saying 90,000 people were executed, tortured or maimed.

In 2013, the UK government agreed to pay 5,000 elderly Kenyans $22.6m (£19.9m) in compensation for the abuse they suffered during its colonial administration.

Many older Kenyans, unlike their younger counterparts in the crowd at President Ruto’s inauguration, think fondly of their former colonial power.

Caroline Murigo, who says she is over 50, tells us news of the Queen’s death was sad.

“It’s somebody I have known all my life. It was sad but it was her time. We wish all the best to the new King, King Charles.”

While 46-year-old Mary Muthoni thinks the monarchy is still relevant to Kenyans today. “They will help us to improve our economy, and to improve our infrastructure in our country.”

The official condolence messages from leaders and officials on the continent have almost unanimously praised the Queen’s reign, record of duty and long-standing engagement with the continent. In Uganda, where she made her last visit to Africa for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007, parliament held a special sitting to honour her.

While in Nigeria, another former British colony, the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion in Abuja held a Remembrance service.

Dean of The Church of Nigeria, Most Reverend Ali Buba Lamido, said: “The Anglican Church has its roots from the church of England and the King or the Queen historically of Church of England is the Head of the Anglican Communion, the defender of faith, so she was the head of our church.”

Image source, Tamara Ebiwei/ BBC

Image caption,

Hundreds attended the service for the Queen in Nigeria

A BBC reporter who attended the ceremony said the mood was sombre but that many did not want to go on the record to offer their condolences – perhaps a reflection of the heated debate over the British Monarchy’s legacy in Africa.

Back in Nairobi in the Mathare informal settlement, 32-year-old Douglas Mwangi thinks the Queen should be celebrated for her work with the Commonwealth, which she led for 70 years. It is a loose organisation of 56 countries, mostly former British colonies.

In 2018, he visited Buckingham Palace to receive the Queen’s Young Leaders Award from the Monarch. He receives training and funding from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust that helps his organisation support the young with IT skills. He says the trust has helped over 14,000 people in Mathare since 2014.

“That [award] gave us credibility. We are learning the best practices on what’s happening across the Commonwealth and see how we can improve our model. The late Majesty the Queen became Queen at a very young age and she believed in the leadership of young people.”

But not all feel the same way. Back outside Kenya’s national stadium, Mr Njau, a businessman, says he does not see how the Commonwealth helps him: “It is crazy that we’re even in that wealth – whatever that Commonwealth is – I have tried to research how we benefit as Kenyans by being in the Commonwealth and it looks like it just benefits a few leaders, a few people.”

The debate that has followed the Queen’s death on the continent is a clear sign that there are many unhealed wounds and trauma from colonial times and many feel now is the moment for Britain and its new King to have honest conversations with Africans about how to heal this painful past.

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