World

DEATH OF A MONARCH

Ramaphosa lauds ‘noble and virtuous example’ set by Queen Elizabeth

Ramaphosa lauds ‘noble and virtuous example’ set by Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth II shows South African President Cyril Ramaphosa letters exchanged between her and Nelson Mandela on South Africa returning to the Commomwealth which were presented as a gift to him during an audience at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2018 in Berkshire, England. (Photo: Steve Parsons / WPA Pool / Getty Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa has paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II as ‘an extraordinary and world-renowned public figure who lived a remarkable life. Her life and legacy will be fondly remembered by many around the world.’

In a statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office on Thursday said Queen Elizabeth II’s “commitment and dedication during her 70 years on the throne remains a noble and virtuous example to the entire world”.

He expressed “profound and sincere condolences to His Majesty, King Charles III, on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa.” 

“The President met Her Majesty at the last Commonwealth meeting which was held in London in 2018 where they spent some time looking  at letters that Former President Mandela sent to the Queen, reminiscing about the great statesman that Her Majesty respected enormously.

“President Ramaphosa says that South Africa’s thoughts and prayers are with The Royal Family, the Government and people of the United Kingdom as they mourn their immense loss.”

Mangosuthu Buthelezi expressed deepest condolences to the House of Windsor on behalf of King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and the Zulu Royal Family as well as on his own behalf as traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch and nation.

“Our prayers are with the Royal Family, and with Prime Minister Liz Truss as she leads a nation in mourning. May God comfort the people of the United Kingdom, and all those around the world who felt such great esteem and affection for Her Majesty the Queen.

“My personal condolences are with His Majesty the King, with whom I have shared a treasured friendship over many years. I have been honoured to be hosted by His Majesty, and to have hosted him in Ulundi. I have always admired his principled approach to his duties and his people.

“This was no doubt instilled in him by his beloved Mother, who gave her entire life to the service of her nation. Her reign was both long and laudable. Her genuine care and concern for her people shall never be forgotten.

“In this dark moment, we give thanks for a great Queen, knowing that she reigned with true dignity. There are no words to properly express our sorrow. May Her Majesty rest in peace and rise in glory. Long live the King.”

Former President Nelson Mandela seated in Parliament with Queen Elizabeth II. March 1995. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oryx Media Archive)

Mandela and the queen

Ramaphosa’s recollection of reading Mandela’s letters with the queen was a reminder of the strong affection which developed between them.

“It began at the 1991 [Commonwealth] heads of government meeting in Harare,” Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Commonwealth secretary-general told the Daily Telegraph after Mandela’s death in December 2013.

He said Mandela had been invited to Salisbury by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe even though he was then still only the leader of the African National Congress and not a head of government. South Africa was not yet even a member of the Commonwealth. 

Mandela was expecting to attend the queen’s banquet, but then discovered it was reserved for heads of government. But Anyaoku recalled that the moment he explained the predicament to Queen Elizabeth, she immediately said: “Let’s have him.”

Anyaoku thought the queen had displayed great judgment, recalling that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had called Mandela a terrorist at the Commonwealth summit just four years before in Vancouver.

The queen was widely believed to have strongly disagreed with Thatcher on that point, fearing that Thatcher’s opposition to sanctions against the apartheid government would tear the Commonwealth apart.

Their meeting over dinner in Harare began a friendship which evolved to the point where Mandela evidently used to address the queen as “my dear Elizabeth”, which probably no other head of state dared do.

He even inspired her to emulate him in his famous jive in their box at the Albert Hall on his state visit to the UK in 1996.

Queen Elizabeth II’s royal legacy from the age of steam to the era of the smartphone

Head of seven states

In 1952, when she succeeded her father, George VI, Queen Elizabeth became monarch and head of state of South Africa as well as six other states: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Ceylon. That number swelled as Britain’s colonies won independence.

Later, many of those states became republics, including South Africa where Queen Elizabeth ceased to be head of state on 31 May 1961 when National Party Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd declared this country a republic and took it out of the Commonwealth — pre-empting the Commonwealth ejecting South Africa because of its increasingly controversial apartheid policies.

At her death, the queen was head of state not only of the United Kingdom but also 14 other “Commonwealth realms” as they are called, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and others in the Asia-Pacific and Caribbean regions. A Commonwealth realm is different from a member of the Commonwealth, a loose association of 54 states — including South Africa — most of which have an association with the British Empire, but most of which do not recognise the British monarch as their head of state.

The queen’s death has raised questions about how long some of these states will retain the British monarch as their own. Some of them may have done so because of her personal authority.

Colonial associations

In the Caribbean, for instance, there is a growing impulse to shed the monarchy, in part because of its colonial associations and in part because of Britain’s role in the slave trade. Barbados abandoned the monarchy on 30 November last year, with Governor-General Sandra Mason declaring: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind.” 

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in March that his country intended to become fully independent of the monarchy.

In Australia, there has been a strong republican movement for some time and some Australian officials believe the death of the queen will give new impetus to that movement. They note that to some degree she maintained support for the monarchy because of her personal dedication to her role and her remarkable sense of duty.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is leading the charge to make Australia a republic and it will be interesting to see if he seizes this moment to advance the cause.

However, a former Australian high commissioner once said in private that he believed his country would retain the British monarch as head of state if only to avoid the inevitable political friction of trying to elect or appoint a president.

Analysts also differ on the likelihood that other countries will reject the crown, as the Council on Foreign Relations observed recently. It quoted  King’s College’s Richard Drayton, a historian, as saying: “Barbados could be a tipping point” in that regard. Yet, Aaron Kamugisha of Barbados’s University of the West Indies believes the impact of Barbados’s departure is likely to be limited, especially given that some countries have stricter requirements for the change.

“In Canada, for instance, it would require a constitutional reform, meaning the unanimous assent of the 10 provinces as well as Parliament. Canadian support for republicanism remains below a majority, but it has grown sharply in the last year.

“And yet another factor in Canada and elsewhere is the popularity of Queen Elizabeth. Experts say that she commands a level of respect not yet earned by much of the rest of the royal family, creating unpredictability for her successor.”

In recent years, as the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign loomed, a debate also surfaced in the Commonwealth about whether after her death the next British monarch should remain head of the organisation. 

Queen Elizabeth was believed to greatly cherish her role as head of the Commonwealth and attended all of its biennial summits, beginning in Ottawa in 1973 until Perth in 2011, when she began curtailing long-distance travel. She attended the 1999 summit in Durban. 

The position isn’t hereditary, but in 2018 — at the behest of the queen — Commonwealth leaders agreed the position would pass on to Prince Charles, now King Charles III, though some leaders favoured it to rotate among the heads of member states. DM

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