Why I boycotted the queen

Queen Elizabeth

I WAS a Lower Sixth student at Prince Edward School in Harare, Zimbabwe, when Queen Elizabeth II visited our school in October 1991. Zimbabwe was hosting that year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the queen — as the head of the Commonwealth — was attending.

In preparation for the “big day” at the school, our headmaster, a stern and imposing disciplinarian named Clive Barnes, made sure the school facilities were pristine and students learnt to sing, God Save the Queen, the British national anthem.

I regarded the latter as an especially condescending and redundant exercise. If she wanted to visit our school and sing with us, I thought, why didn’t “Her Majesty” learn to recite our then national anthem — Ishe Komborera Africa?

Our school had been established as Salisbury Grammar in 1898, during the early days of colonisation. However, its name was changed to Prince Edward School after the then-prince of Wales visited in 1925. That may explain why our school was included on the queen’s itinerary, and how the visit descended into a deplorably pretentious and quintessentially British affair that didn’t represent the wider Zimbabwe.

So, when the day arrived, I decided to boycott the queen.

I stayed at home to express my revulsion and indignation towards everything — centuries of British-funded slavery and shameless colonialism — which the royal family represented. To be clear, I treasured the multicultural society that I lived in. I appreciated that Prince Edward was a multiracial government school.

However, I drew a line in the sand when it came to fawning over the queen of England or British royals, in general. I didn’t hate the queen, or the Duke of Edinburgh who had accompanied her, but I abhorred the old institution she represented. And I didn’t believe she could relate to our long and arduous struggles against white supremacist rule.

I believed she didn’t want to.

She hadn’t attempted to atone for the centuries-long repression that facilitated her considerable wealth and white privilege. I hadn’t seen ordinary Britons performing our national anthem or standing in awe of an African queen or king, as we were expected to do in Queen Elizabeth’s presence. So I couldn’t muster the moral proclivity to meet her.

I knew that a 17-year-old’s symbolic gesture wouldn’t change anything. Yet I was determined to follow my conscience and take a defiant stand against the queen and the royal family.

I stayed at home and don’t regret that decision.

Today, I have family members who remain impoverished because of the United Kingdom’s colonial exploits. Like many in Africa, the mineral and agricultural wealth emanating from our ancestral lands and poorly remunerated labour enriched the royal family and enabled the UK’s industrialisation, leaving us incredibly poor and disenfranchised.

I have always felt the royal family and the UK ought to offer an unqualified apology and compensation for slavery and colonisation.

I have read that Queen Elizabeth II purportedly supported the Black Lives Matter movement. King Charles III, as prince last November, described slavery as appalling. I know that the UK passed the Slavery Abolition Act almost two centuries ago. Yet the royal family has remained unable, but more likely unwilling, to apologise for slavery and lead the campaign for reparations.

I find it disgusting and embarrassing that Queen Elizabeth’s estimated $500m fortune was established on stealing foreign lands, destroying livelihoods, repressing Africans and selling slaves. I find it abhorrent that the royal family is, for all intents and purposes, a thriving $28bn commercial empire.

It’s a shame that people outside of the UK, especially in former British colonies, actually have the time to indulge the royal family’s colonial enterprise. I couldn’t do it 31 years ago. I won’t do it now.


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