“A servant queen”: the world pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

Cape Town, South Africa — Around the world, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has sparked reflections on the historic scope of her reign and how she managed to preside over the end of the British colonial empire and embrace the independence of its former dominions.

Tributes to the Queen’s life poured in, from world leaders to rock stars to ordinary people – as well as some criticism of the monarchy.

It was in Cape Town, on her 21st birthday in 1947, that then-Princess Elizabeth promised that “all her life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

The British Empire quickly crumbled, but Elizabeth managed to maintain a royal – albeit ceremonial – position at the head of the Commonwealth, the 54 nations of the mostly previous British colonies.

“The Queen lived a long and consistent life, fulfilling her promise to serve until her last breath at the age of 96,” Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said on Friday. “She was an exemplary leader of a kind rarely seen in the modern age.”

As Queen, Elizabeth was seen as endorsing the birth of democracies in former colonies in Africa where black citizens had previously been denied basic rights, including voting. When she danced in glittering tiaras with new African leaders in the 1960s and visited their capitals, she made their new institutions shine.

When white minority rule finally fell in South Africa in 1994, Elizabeth welcomed Nelson Mandela as world leader. His warm friendship with Mandela gave him new relevance.

“In the years since his release from prison, (Mandela) has cultivated a close relationship with the Queen. He hosted her in South Africa and visited her in England, taking particular pleasure in exploring Buckingham Palace. They also spoke frequently on the phone, using their first names with each other as a sign of mutual respect as well as affection,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said on Friday.

“For Madiba, (name of Mandela’s clan), it was important that the former colonial power in southern Africa be drawn into cordial and productive relations with the new democratic republic of South Africa.”

Another anti-apartheid fighter, the late Anglican Archbishop of Cape Desmond Tutu, also had a good relationship with the Queen.

“Though ensconced in the pomp, ceremony and lifestyle of royalty and empire, in a world of deep inequality, she was a servant queen,” Tutu’s foundation and trust said on Friday.

In contrast, a scathing view of the Queen’s reign has been issued by South Africa’s populist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. The Queen was “at the helm of an institution built on, sustained by and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanizing millions of people around the world”, he said.

“We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because for us her death reminds us of a very tragic time in this country and in the history of Africa,” the party said. “During her 70-year reign as Queen, she never acknowledged the atrocities her family inflicted on the Indigenous peoples Britain invaded across the world. She willingly benefited from the wealth that was achieved through the exploitation and murder of millions of people.

Some Irish football fans cheered the Queen’s death during a game on Thursday, according to videos posted online which angered her supporters. The leaders of the Republic of Ireland expressed their condolences and admiration for the Queen.

The widespread tributes that followed his death came not only from US President Joe Biden, but also from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

She was a “stateswoman of unparalleled dignity and steadfastness who deepened the fundamental alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States,” Biden and First Lady Jill Biden said, adding that she was “defining an era”.

Putin sent a telegram to King Charles III, Elizabeth’s eldest son who automatically became Britain’s new monarch.

“For many decades, Elizabeth II rightfully enjoyed the love and respect of her subjects, as well as authority on the world stage. I wish you courage and perseverance in the face of this heavy and irreparable loss,” said writes Putin.

Elizabeth was mourned across Europe. In France, Britain’s historic rival and contemporary ally, the flags of the presidential palace and public buildings were lowered to half-mast on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron released a video in English on Friday expressing a sense of “emptiness” after his death. Addressing the UK audience, he said: ‘For you she was your queen. For us, she was THE queen, for all of us.

In the United States, tributes have come from all living former presidents.

Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, said Elizabeth had made “the role of queen her own – with a reign defined by grace, elegance and a tireless work ethic”. George W. Bush called her “a woman of great intelligence, charm and wit”, and Jimmy Carter said that Elizabeth’s “dignity, grace and sense of duty” were inspiring.

Even in places where relations with the British monarchy are complicated, tributes have poured in. In India, once a British colony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Elizabeth “a pillar of our times”.

The Queen’s death came as a growing number of British territories in the Caribbean seek to replace the monarch with their own heads of state as Britain demands an apology for its colonial-era abuses and grants to its former colonies reparations for slavery.

Yet Caribbean leaders mourned her. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said for many years that Elizabeth visited the island every decade.

“Without a doubt, she forged a special bond with the Jamaican people,” he said. “We are saddened not to see his light again, but we will remember his historic reign.”

Bermuda Premier David Burt noted that his reign “entailed decades of such immense change for the UK and the world”.

Elizabeth was also ruler of 14 other countries, including Jamaica, Canada, Australia, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand.

“Here is a woman who gave her life, entirely, in the service of others. And no matter what one thinks of the role of monarchies in the world, there is undeniably, I think here, a demonstration of someone who has given everything in the name of his people, “said the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from Zealand.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he found it hard to believe he had his last conversation with Elizabeth: “I will miss those conversations so much,” he said. Elizabeth had visited Canada 22 times as a monarch.

“For most Canadians, we have known no other sovereign,” Trudeau said, his eyes red with emotion. He said she was “a constant presence in our lives – and her service to Canadians will forever remain an important part of our country’s history.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led a failed campaign for an Australian president to replace the British monarch as Australian head of state, nearly cried as he paid tribute to Elizabeth.

“It’s the end of an era and hopefully the future, after the Queen passes away, will be one where we have leadership as dedicated and selfless as she has shown,” Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

In China, Elizabeth’s death was a hot topic on social media.

“I feel quite sad,” said Bao Huifang, a lawyer in Beijing. “She played a very important role in stabilizing Britain and the world.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his condolences, noting that Elizabeth was the first British monarch to visit China.

Elizabeth’s death comes amid increasingly strained relations between Britain and China. Xi said he was willing to work with King Charles III to promote “sound and stable” bilateral relations.

Rock star Elton John paid tribute during his concert in Toronto, saying he was inspired by her and is sad that she is gone.

“She led the country through some of our greatest and darkest times with grace and decency and genuine caring,” John said.


AP journalists Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, Robert Gillies in Toronto, Canada, and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.


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