Picture: Leon Neal/Pool/AFP – Britain’s King Charles III looks at Queen Camilla as they stand on the Buckingham Palace balcony, in London, following their coronations, on May 6, 2023. On the eve of the Coronation, activists from twelve Commonwealth countries, including from South Africa, implored the new King of Britain to apologise for the country’s cruel history of colonialism, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
Many African Presidents lined up as obedient royal subjects to celebrate a new British King. In the storybook of royalty and rule, the former coloniser remains sovereign. And the former colonised remains servant. For as long as African leaders celebrate their former colonisers, the Continent is little more than a colony.
The coronation of King Charles III was a grotesquely flamboyant spectacle of beguile and bejewel. The crown jewels – the “blood diamonds” of colonialism were displayed loud and proud, as if these were the riches of Britain, not Africa and India.
The ‘Star of Africa’ diamond, which was discovered in South Africa and “illegitimately gifted” to the British monarchy in 1907 by the colonial government of the time, was centrepiece in the shimmer and glimmer of the King’s majestic mace and crown.
On the eve of the Coronation, activists from twelve Commonwealth countries, including from South Africa, implored the new King of Britain to apologise for the country’s cruel history of colonialism, and return stolen and ill-gotten treasures and wealth. This is not simply a call for the return of gems and diamonds. It is a moral appeal for economic reparations for the wholesale plunder done by colonial rulers. This plea was to fall on deaf ears. To expect anything else from the heartless coloniser and his greedy beneficiaries would be the heart of naivety.
The legacy of colonisation remains omnipresent in today’s global landscape. The extraction of riches, the debasing of culture and indigenous knowledge systems and the spread of white powered propaganda continues to have a devastating effect on the African continent and the minds of Africans long after the colonisers “left”.
Today, Africa remains poor, for it has failed to overcome the historical plunder of its natural riches or re-establish and take control of its economic ecology. It is poor too, for culture and knowledge systems remain weakened and warped in the carriage of coloniality. The oppressor is present across all spheres and the oppressed is servant to such. It is this bizarre power relation and cultural dislodgement that gives rise to African leaders and scholars in South Africa singing a national anthem incorporating verses of apartheid times. In the words of the great revolutionary thinker and author Dr Frantz Fanon, “imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well”. Sadly, the mindset of much of Africa, many of its leaders, its scholars and its children, is set and stuck in the rot of colonialism.
In The Wretched of the Earth, Dr Frantz Fanon writes about how “in a very concrete way Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries”. He writes of the opulence of Europe which he says is “literally the creation of the Third World”.
Colonialism and imperialism did not settle their debts to former African colonies when they withdrew from the territories. Fanon opines “The wealth of the imperialist nations is also our wealth”.
South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) expressed disgust at how the British monarchy continue to live “in the grandeur of African wealth while African children die of starvation”.
“Charles III is firm on track of his predecessors as he parades the fruits of their brutal legacy of dehumanisation of millions of people across the world,” the EFF said.
The party also remarked that the presence of African leaders at the coronation was “an endorsement of further oppression of Africans under the banner of trade”.
But African leaders, ever ready to please their former colonial masters, joined in the majestic festivities. The Presidents of Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia, Liberia, and Zimbabwe attended the Coronation.
Even Kenyan President, William Ruto, who had complained about the poor treatment that African leaders had received and how they had been loaded on buses like schoolchildren when they attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, joined the Coronation’s royal bandwagon.
African leaders should not be shocked or shook when they are subject to inferior treatment. To rush to bow at the feet of western leaders and former colonialists, is a grand act of submission and bondage. They are participating as subjects not as equals.
The EFF argues that the attendance of the ANC government at the coronation “legitimises the brutality of the British monarchy against the very people it is elected to serve”. Ramaphosa did not attend, but it was not for ideological reasons as he has long relished, answered and enjoyed the call of his colonial masters. He sent his Foreign Minister to represent South Africa. Perhaps the Phala Phala President was a little embarrassed to show his face, especially after the royal embarrassment of not being invited to attend the G7 Summit in Japan.
In a recent article in the Conversation by Annie St John-Stark, she argues that repatriating the Crown Jewels is long overdue. She asks, “If coronation viewers are enchanted by the majesty and historical grandeur of the coronation ceremony, are they also enchanted by Britain’s brutal colonial past?” She writes of how the diamonds are emblematic of Britain’s colonial and imperialist past, and a stain on the coronation.
Fanon’s words written so long ago but remains so relevant today should appeal to our ethical fibre “the question which is looming on the horizon” writes Fanon “is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question or be shaken to pieces by it”. For now, Africa remains the wretched of the earth, in the post-colonial era. And the contemporary African mind remains wretched by the germs of colonialism from which it has yet to free itself. All while the world sings God Bless The King!
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’