Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|September 19, 2022|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Would you have wanted to be the Queen?

Probably by the time you read this, Queen Elizabeth II will have been laid to rest next to her late husband Prince Phillip, as the world mulls her legacy.Millions of words have been written and spoken across Africa in the last week, or so, about the passing of the former head of the Commonwealth who visited  20 African nations, in a reign of seven decades.

It is a tough one to call. I have been thinking all week about it. The critics say, for all the tributes, the Queen was the head of a system of backward, snobbish, patronage that keeps a tiny elite – many of whom are descended from those who profited from the colonization of Africa – in power in Britain.

How do you balance that with  70 years of honest public service? It meant she had to follow a strict, exhausting, timetable in shaking millions of hands, making small talk with strangers, and answering tens of thousands of letters every year.

Ask yourself, would you, as an entrepreneur, give up the sweet freedom of writing your own life risking for glory in business to become a prisoner of the palace? Maybe not.

Yet, many Africans see the Queen as the face of European domination of Africa and the subsequent economic looting that went on for centuries.

A tiny example of this: during World War One, Britain negotiated successfully cut-price African gold – the fruit of the sweated labour of tens of thousands of black South Africans – to help pay for the war. When peace came, it took years for the South Africans to persuade the British to return, reluctantly, to paying full price for the bars of gold dug from deep beneath the red soil of Africa. A sign of how Britain patronisingly saw Africa’s resources as its own.

You could argue the Queen’s saving grace was her honesty, human touch and sense of humour.

In Africa, at the very least, she tried to exert her informal pressure against the despots and racists.

Unlike many in the British establishment, she supported sanctions against apartheid South Africa and opposed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in no uncertain terms.

Earlier in her reign, her government helped save Nelson Mandela’s neck when he faced the death penalty for sabotage in 1964.

The late George Bizos, one of Mandela’s legal team, once told me that it was the British government that put pressure on the apartheid government not to hang Mandela. I am sure the Queen had a strong say in this.

Of course, Mandela served 27 years in prison and emerged to develop a relationship with Queen that transcended race and class. Mandela used to laugh with the woman he called: “My friend Elizabeth.”

“I have never known a man, particularly a politician, with so little rancour,” she said of Mandela in her own, understated, way.

The retired racists, who used to run the show in Pretoria, must have spilt their brandy and coke when they saw the Queen sitting proudly in the royal carriage in London next to the man they had vilified as a communist and terrorist.

Maybe that is the joint legacy the Queen and Mandela left in my mind. The royal and the former African prisoner gliding  in a golden carriage – happy and glorious, against all odds. Just 30 years before Mandela was working with a pick axe in the blinding light of the prison quarry on Robben Island.

A powerful image that speaks volumes: that the impossible can happen; that racist evil can be defeated; that dreams can become reality. It gives me hope in these dark times that a better day can dawn.

Surely inspiration for African entrepreneurs everywhere?