The Queen was a beneficiary, furtherer of colonial conquest
I’ve often been fascinated by the world’s obsession with and reverence for the British monarchy and how people often see them as living the fairy-tale life of storybooks. For me, however, there is no warm, fuzzy glow that is induced by memories of the Queen or seeing the royal family and their inane shenanigans unfold in the news.
No tear will be shed for Queen Elizabeth by me. She was no benevolent grandmotherly figure, merely a beneficiary and furtherer of colonial conquest that plunged millions of people on my continent and the Global South into the slavery, displacement and misery that still persists today.
This is what Queen Elizabeth and her forebears imposed on our country: a people who have been disenfranchised and generationally brutalised by colonialism and the conquest of empire. For me as a South African there is nothing to be revered about the British monarchy, as it symbolises the destruction of lives, the impact of which has left African people with constant anxiety as a result of being forced to live under foreign rule, which resulted in the deaths of many.
The pursuits of empire robbed us of self-determination and forced us into a system that only recognised us as human if we aspired to be perfect English gentlemen and ladies. So powerful was this imposed aspiration that Africans were forced to forsake their “barbaric” culture and be “civilised” by the British. This, in fact, was the premise of British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled The White Man’s Burden, in which he writes: “Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half devil and half child”, meaning that the British did not quite see Africans as humans but as heathens who lived a savage life. This was, of course, used as justification for colonialism and the inhumane treatment of Africans.
The crown is also the reason why we face such contention over land and displacement of people, because when the British arrived to colonise SA they declared that the land belonged to the Crown (Queen of England), someone who was not even of this continent.
The death of the British Queen should provide a moment of reflection on monarchical rule, its real legacy and relevance in the present day. In my mind the idea of the rule of monarchy is anachronistic and at odds with my beliefs, as I ascribe to the values of constitutional and democratic governance. In other words, I don’t believe a person should govern based purely on lineage rather than demonstrable leadership and principled values that centre the needs of a country’s people.
We too have our own monarchs in Africa, and they too should be examined to determine what tangible function they serve, be it as guardians of culture and traditions or the fostering of social cohesion and identity. Either way, a more nuanced discussion is required to determine each one’s role in the world today.
I harbour no ill will towards the Queen on her death, merely an indifference, much the same as I felt on the death of apartheid’s last president, Frederik Willem de Klerk, last year. I will always remember what they represented. The passage of time and regimes will not erase that.