UK welcomes open debate about its colonial past, says H…

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Britain welcomes healthy and open discussion about some of the “dark spots” of its colonial past, including slavery, said the country’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Antony Phillipson.

Phillipson told reporters at a briefing that was also the view of King Charles III, who became monarch after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, last Thursday.

Phillipson was reacting to the debate the Queen’s death has sparked over her heritage in South Africa, as in other former colonies, with some commentators seeing her as a reminder of Britain’s colonial past.

Phillipson said the High Commission followed the discussion, which it found “very interesting. There were a variety of feelings. But a considerable amount of warmth and positive feelings too.

He noted that King Charles III himself commented on this in his keynote address to the Commonwealth Summit in Rwanda in June, “where he spoke of the need to recognize our past and our common histories, both positive and less positive.

“But then to focus on the future of our relationship, creating opportunity, security and prosperity for people across the Commonwealth.

“I was very struck by his speech when Barbados became a republic, he spoke very directly about the dark spot left on our histories by slavery and what our understanding of that means for our relationships in a world modern,” added Phillipson.

In November last year, as Prince Charles, he attended the ceremony in the Caribbean island state of Barbados when he relinquished the British monarch as head of state and became a republic .

In his speech, Prince Charles recognized the “appalling atrocity of slavery” that Barbados had endured as a hub of the transatlantic slave trade for over 200 years.

Barbados’ departure left 14 other ‘kingdoms’ – apart from the UK – who still recognize the British monarch as their head of state. But others are also considering becoming republics, especially now that Queen Elizabeth II is gone.

Phillipson noted that in Barbados, Prince Charles said that the constitutional constitution of each country, whether a republic or a monarchy, was up to each individual to decide. Charles understood that “arrangements like these can change calmly and without resentment”.

Phillipson added that although the Queen’s death reignited these discussions about the past, they had already started before that.

“And it’s also important that we think about that when we think about our relationship between the UK and other countries. As the High Commission in South Africa, we’ve always wanted to be very conscious of how people view the past relationship between South Africa and the UK as we strive to build ties for the future.

“We can’t change history, but believe we can recognize its impact on the future and how people react to it. And it is in this context that we are building these partnerships for the future.

He said during his discussions in South Africa during his year in the post that he had concluded that it was “important to understand the common aspects of our history, to understand the issues that are seen as marring that history “.

“And as we think about what we should do together, that’s the context in which we have these discussions with each other about how we can deliver a safer and more prosperous future for the UK and for South Africa by working together.”

Phillipson said he was unaware of any ongoing discussions in South Africa about the need for the UK to pay reparations there for settlement – as Great Britain paid in 2013 to over 5,228 Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during the Mau Mau uprising against the colonial government.

British High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa, Antony Phillipson. (Photo: supplied)

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No major changes planned

The high commissioner said that despite the UK’s “remarkable coincidence” of a new monarch and a new prime minister Liz Truss almost simultaneously, he foresaw no major change in Britain’s relationship with South Africa or Africa.

UK welcomes open debate about its colonial past, High Commissioner tells SA
Queen Elizabeth II shows South African President Cyril Ramaphosa letters between her and Nelson Mandela regarding South Africa’s return to the Commonwealth during an audience at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2018 in Berkshire, England . (Picture: Steve Parsons/Getty Images)

“I think there’s going to be a considerable amount of continuity,” he said. He was certain King Charles would maintain Queen Elizabeth’s commitment to the strong bond with South Africa, both directly and through the 54-member Commonwealth.

He noted that the King had said he believed the Commonwealth, based on shared values ​​such as democracy, was an important forum for the engagement of its members. He noted that King Charles had taken over the Commonwealth as agreed by its leaders in 2018.

The fact that new members were joining – such as Rwanda – which had no historical connection to Britain, showed that it was still seen “as an attractive, forward-looking and progressive organisation”.

Phillipson said he also did not think Boris Johnson’s move from Prime Minister to Truss would greatly affect the UK’s relationship with South Africa, especially as they both belonged to the Conservative Party, which would continue to pursue its manifesto.

“I think we will continue to see a significant prioritization of the bilateral relationship with South Africa, through the G20, and I’m sure future G7 presidents will continue to invite South African presidents. [to the G7 summits]it will be another opportunity.

“The issues we have been working on with South Africa, around inclusive economic growth, the commitment to implement the partnership for a just energy transition and indeed working together to address the consequences of Covid , I think all of this will continue.”

As part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, the United Kingdom, United States, European Union, Germany and France have pledged $8.5 billion to South Africa to help to shift from its huge reliance on coal-fired power to renewables, while taking care of the interests of those who will be affected, such as coal miners.

Phillipson noted that King Charles had always been committed to preserving the environment and would likely continue that commitment, albeit in different ways, as he had said he would now have much wider responsibilities.

He noted that the King had also said he was passing on some of his responsibilities as Prince of Wales to the next generation, including the next Prince of Wales, his son William.

Phillipson said he was unsure whether President Cyril Ramaphosa should take a bus – along with other world leaders – to attend Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday.

But he said it would be an incredible logistical challenge to host what is likely to be the biggest gathering of world leaders since Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. DM

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