A chance for reconciliation and reparation
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has offered one of those reflective opportunities that allows for expanding one’s appreciation and understanding of a complex world.
First, let me declare my personal bias as one who would have been 2 years old when the late Queen assumed her role. I don’t recall any excitement in our family regarding anything to do with the Royal Family. Had we lived in London, rather than North Shore, we might have been considered to be Republicans — those promoting democratic principles, as opposed to royalists attached to the concept of monarchy.
That said, there is no doubt that her passing constitutes an end of an era that began when she was only 25 years old. It is arguable over the subsequent seven decades that the Queen fulfilled a role that on balance was seen by many as something of a “stabilising” influence globally.
She certainly had a much better public persona than many of today’s world leaders.
Notwithstanding the perceived impact of the reign of Elizabeth II, as they say, the devil is always in the detail. Let me suggest that the end of this era offers an opportunity for a pivot away from the archaic system of monarchy to embracing the concept that all be judged by the content of their character – to quote one late icon.
What do we see when we take a closer look:
• Queen Elizabeth II died at her family’s private estate in Scotland, called Balmoral Castle, which is 50,000 acres — four times the size of Bermuda. Consider this in the context of Britain experiencing at present a housing crisis that is forecasted to be made significantly worse during the predicted inflationary spiral this winter
• Elizabeth was notified of her ascension to the throne while on a trip to Kenya in February 1952. The irony was that at that time and for the rest of the decade, the British Government was engaged in the brutal repression of the independence movement in that former colony, which was effectively hidden
• Research by a number of academics, including the professor Caroline Elkins, of Harvard University, whose book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag In Kenya verified the “dirty war” during which some 1.5 million people were detained in concentration camps, many beaten and others killed. Elkins assisted in the winning of a court case in London that secured some reparations for hundreds of victims
• Elkins points out that this policy came from the British Foreign Office and not the Crown, and she cannot say if the Queen was in any way aware
• In the 1950s, there was also similar brutal repression in other British colonies, notably Cyprus and Malaya
That said, Queen Elizabeth did show her hand with regard to the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
By 1986, the global anti-apartheid movement, which found support in Bermuda, was so strong that all but one of the 52 members of the Commonwealth supported levying economic sanctions against South Africa to facilitate ending apartheid. That exception was Britain and its prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who adamantly maintained her opposition to putting that pressure on the anti-democratic Pretoria regime. However, credible reports demonstrated that Queen Elizabeth II did what she could from behind the scenes to get the “Iron Lady” on board, but to no avail.
Thatcher and her partner, US president Ronald Reagan, maintained their position on South Africa until circumstances on the ground, supported by a global consensus, brought democracy to South Africa. On his initial world tour after release from prison, Nelson Mandela connected with some of the diverse people who provided key support to the movement for South Africa’s transformation. They included Fidel Castro, Harry Belafonte and Queen Elizabeth II.
These details demonstrate the complexity of life.
The passing of the Queen offers a pivot point that should include meaningful reconciliation and repair for the sins of the past. It provides a platform that could transform hierarchy with the goal of overcoming inequity. This with the view of accessing that immense potential that is available when community is meaningfully inclusive.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda