Africa: Goodbye to the Queen

Climate catastrophe, war, and political turmoil took a back seat on Thursday night to news that the ailing Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch, had died.

Her four children, including the man who has now become King Charles, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered at Balmoral Castle in Scotland earlier in the day as the palace announced that she had been placed “under medical supervision”.

The arrival of the estranged grandson Harry, the Duke of Cambridge, and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Cambridge, confirmed that her condition was serious.

Queen Elizabeth was Head of State of the United Kingdom for 70 years. During that time the country went through 15 Prime Ministers, starting with Sir Winston Churchill, and ending with Liz Truss, who was only appointed by the Queen on Wednesday.

Amid an outpouring of sympathy, the usual snark was posted on social media: “meeting Liz Truss and then immediately dying is a move I respect,” wrote one Twitter commentator.

But the fact that the death of someone almost 100 years old could so dominate the airwaves is a sign of the enduring global fascination with the British royal family and respect for the Queen as the ultimate symbol of her nation.

The Queen’s long reign tracked South African history as well. As a young princess she visited South Africa in 1947 and bonded with then Prime Minister General Jan Smuts, dancing the night away with him.

During the apartheid years she stayed away from South Africa – which left the British Commonwealth in 1961 – but was back after democracy in 1994. She enjoyed a warm friendship with Nelson Mandela who flouted royal custom by calling her Elizabeth and phoning her on her private line whenever he wanted to chat.

Mandela was even comfortable enough to comment on her weight, according to his former personal assistant Zelda la Grange.

The Queen presided over a Britain that in the fifties and sixties let go of its large sprawling Empire, including its many colonies in Africa. As head of the Commonwealth, she put special effort into building that organization into a meaningful association of English-speaking nations.

Her death truly marks the end of an era – and in some ways brings the 20th Century to a close.

What happened now has already been tightly scripted – according to what is known as the “London Bridge” plan.

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