Colonialism and controversial guests inform Africa’s reaction to Charles’s coronation

While some paid tribute to the British monarch, the presence in London of certain guests proved less than welcome

Thuli Madonsela, a popular lawyer and activist widely respected after her leadership of the country’s public corruption watchdog, offered “congratulations to HM King Charles and Queen Camilla on their coronation” in a tweet. “It was wonderful to see our peerless opera star ⁦@PrettyYende shine during the coronation,” Madonsela said.

However, others took a more combative stance, with the Economic Freedom Fighters, a populist radical leftwing party, calling for Britain to return the world’s largest diamond, known as the Star of Africa, which is set in the royal sceptre held by the king on Saturday.

The diamond, which weighs 530 carats, was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and presented to the British monarchy by the colonial government in the country, which was then under British rule.

The EFF said on Sunday that the attendance at the ceremony of the ruling African National Congress, which sent its foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, “legitimised the brutality of the British monarchy against the very people [the ANC] was elected to serve”.

“Today, 116 years later, the king of England … continues in the pompous steps of his predecessors flaunting the stolen Star of Africa at his coronation. Apartheid criminal Louis Botha handed over the Star of Africa to the ruthless British colonisers in 1907 … The British monarchy had no dignified grounds to accept it, let alone still parade it as British glory 116 years later,” the party said.

In the coastal city of Durban, expatriate British communities planned a special church service on Sunday followed by a picnic or a braai, a traditional South African barbecue. “I think people want to be part of an important moment in history,” said Illa Thompson, one of the organisers of the festivities.

Few African media organisations had sufficient resources to cover events in London themselves, instead relying on international press agencies. Many news websites ran galleries of photographs depicting events but with little comment on them.

In some countries, attention focused on the presence of controversial African leaders. In Zimbabwe, some alarm was expressed at the presence of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president.

Mnangagwa, who won a contested election in 2018 and whose government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, said upon taking power that he wanted Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth, but he then balked at the necessary democratic and economic reforms.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe pictured in Harare in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“We are concerned when countries which claim to be champions of democracy choose to entertain despots like Mnangagwa,” said Obert Masaraure, a trade unionist and pro-democracy activist in Zimbabwe. “It is now clear that nations are now choosing business deals ahead of people. The British government is keen on laying hands on Zimbabwe’s raw materials and no longer care about soiled human rights record of Mnangagwa.”

In Kenya, Herman Manyora, a political analyst and journalism professor at the University of Nairobi, said many people had been put off by “the torture during colonialism, because of the oppression, because of detentions, because of killings, because of the alienation of our land.”

But, as in South Africa, reactions have been varied, with some Kenyans, often from older generations, arguing that the Commonwealth still has some relevance on the continent.

In Uganda, the political analyst Asuman Bisiika said British culture continued to have a strong influence on young people, especially those who follow English football. There is also a lot of goodwill for Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September after 70 years on the throne.

“It’s not about caring for the British monarchy,” Bisiika said. “It’s about relating.”

The inclusion of Tiwa Savage in the lineup for the coronation concert on Sunday prompted mixed reactions in the Nigerian singer’s homeland, with some criticism. Others welcomed the inclusion of “the queen of afrobeats” in the royal occasion.

This article was originally published here.

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