As head of state for 70 years, Queen Elizabeth became the owner of a long list of interesting objects. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Following the death of Queen Elisabeth, Bouwer van Niekerk asks that as we reflect on his life, if there are positives we can take from it and even learn from it.
“The queen is dead. Long live the king ! This famous phrase was undoubtedly heard in the depths and breadths of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the ceremonial head of state who held said office for some seven decades. and in the process became arguably the most famous woman in the world. Originally proclaimed in French – The king is dead, long live the king ! – it was declared for the first time during the accession of Charles VII to the throne of France immediately after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422 and comes from the law of dead seize the living – the transfer of sovereignty takes place instantly upon the death of the previous monarch. A phrase that holds significant historical significance for a large number of royalists, it leaves many (if not most) South Africans cold.
Hated across South Africa and the Continent
The reasons for its cold reception are as obvious as they are abundant and are almost universally shared by South Africans of all different backgrounds and cultures. As a symbol of one of the most prolific colonizers in history, the King or Queen of England (depending on the time) was hated not just in South Africa, but across Africa and beyond. beyond to the ends of the globe where his armies forcefully conquered and enslaved peaceful nations that meant no harm to the little island. As the Economic Freedom Fighters rightly point out in their September 8, 2022 statement, immediately after the death of Elizabeth II, Britain’s most sacred institutions were built, sustained and lived on by a brutal legacy of the dehumanization of millions of people around the world.
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Closer to home, English colonizers fought what became known as the South African Wars under the banner of their royal family and in the process killed countless South Africans in concentration camps and on the battlefield across our beautiful country. The atrocities committed in the name of anyone who sat on the British throne from the time their ships set foot on our shores until well into the 20th century caused many South Africans to hate the English and their royal family that they have seen it appropriate, even necessary, to transmit this hatred through the generations. To this day I still hear the phrase god straf england (God punishes England) to certain social commitments.
So why should we as South Africans care about the death of a nonagenarian white woman born into grotesque privilege who saw fit to occasionally don some of the most precious stones ever mined, none of which comes from its own island, and many of which have been plundered from our natural resources? Why should we even offer him the courtesy of debating if there is anything about his life worth mentioning, especially for a people who over the centuries have known only suffering and injustice under the rule of his predecessors?
Better than the British
On the one hand, I believe we can do it (box be careful, no should) because we as South Africans are, on the whole, a forgiving people, and we are (despite our history with the British) a peaceful nation. We are a nation that can say we have defeated apartheid – an atrocity that is on par with colonization in crimes against humanity – without returning to war. It makes us better than the British. I don’t mean that statement to be demeaning, but I won’t regret it either if it’s interpreted as such.
So, now that we’ve established that we can (and I emphasize again boxnot should), give the dead queen time to reflect on her life, are there any positives we can take from this and even learn from it?
READ | ANALYSIS: Queen Elizabeth – Monarch who had to adapt to the shift from Empire to Commonwealth
At the age of twenty-one on a visit to Cape Town, then-Princess Elizabeth promised that, long or short, she would dedicate her whole life to the service of her people. It was not a political statement; she kept that promise. There are two lessons to be drawn from this.
First, and axiomatically: keep your promises. We live in a world where eminent personalities are too often caught breaking their promises. Our Québec Ombudsman is involved in a horrific dismissal process which stems in part from a judgment by the Constitutional Court which found it to be unreliable in its proceedings and its investigations. We have a president who promised to be faithful to the Constitution who is now caught up in a scandal involving the alleged theft of millions of rand in cash, and who has failed to trust the people of South Africa and deal honestly and completely with very serious allegations against him. Instead, he obediently chose to hide behind due process rather than be seen as keeping his promise to uphold the rule of law and answer Parliament’s questions candidly. Keeping your promises is important because they speak to your character or, depending on your ability or inability to do so, your lack of respect.
Second, if taxpayers sponsor your lifestyle, serve them accordingly. Elizabeth II participated in countless engagements throughout her life until the very end, not in pursuit of her personal ambitions, but in the service of her people. Love her or hate her, one can only respect the fact that she always put her duty to the crown first, even before that of a mother to her children. She accepted that, having been born into her unique position in life, she had a responsibility that would play an important role in determining whether there would still be a place for a British royal family in an ever-changing world. And she took that responsibility seriously. In a country where so many people and political parties will be vying for state-sponsored political power over the next few months and years, it is useful to remember the example the late ruler set in placing service above personal gain.
READ | Melanie Verwoerd: It’s not easy for an Afrikaner to love the British Queen, but she won me over
Finally, whenever the Queen during her reign faced criticism and even outright public animosity, she did not try to defend herself by issuing public statements in which she attempted to defend herself and blame the others for the censorship inflicted on him. On the contrary, she observed public opinion and acted in the best way she deemed appropriate in the surrounding circumstances. In a country where we too often see people in power trying to defend themselves by issuing long press releases in which they either try to justify their condemned actions or they attribute the denunciation addressed to them to all sorts of theories of plot, Elizabeth II’s actions (or at times, simply inactions) on the words approach was both fresh and dignified. J
That Her Majesty was far from perfect needs no more justification than simply stating it. The flawed ruler of a deeply flawed family comprising a monarchy that many see as increasingly irrelevant, Elizabeth II will undoubtedly be fondly and coldly remembered for her triumphs and failures. Despite her position as head of the Church of England, she was very human. But then, so are we all.
Despite his flaws, there are lessons to be learned from his life. Just like there are in all our lives. These lessons become evident when we look beyond our worst attributes and focus on what is good within us. Let this be our lesson for all of us, from all of us.
– Bouwer van Niekerk is a lawyer based in Johannesburg.
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