Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa underwent a state visit to the UK. King Charles literally rolled out the red carpet for Pres. Ramaphosa, giving him a state banquet and private meetings, plus the palace organized a small exhibition within the palace especially for the president. The exhibition included pieces from the Royal Collection which showed off Britain and South Africa’s long ties, the ties that bind. The ties of colonialism, the ties of the oppressor and the oppressed. The Royal Collection pieces were carefully selected so as to not remind the South African president about all of the art, jewels and blood stolen from South Africa. This is where Omid Scobie’s latest column picks up – his point is that King Charles and Britain can only play the “hide your stolen jewels” game for so long. Some highlights:
The palace exhibition: Among the pieces on show was the text of the famous “I declare before you all…” radio broadcast given by a then-Princess Elizabeth on her 21st birthday. There were also photos of the late Queen with Nelson Mandela, as well as a map showing the route of the Royal Train during the first royal tour of South Africa by King George VI. Ramaphosa showed keen interest in each artefact, polite diplomacy on full display as he chatted with the King and Queen Consort. Close behind were Prince William and Princess Kate, who were having their own conversations with South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex accompanying the rest of the delegation.
Hide the jewels! The exhibit was a curious collection of items, also including a chess set gifted from Mandela to Prince Philip in 1996 and a photo of Charles with the Spice Girls in Johannesburg. But if fascinating artefacts from South Africa with royal links were the order of the day, it was missing the most precious and important items – the stolen ones. Locked away in the Tower of London and a Buckingham Palace vault are a number of jewels with less positive background stories, including the world’s largest diamond. Known to many as the Cullinan, this 3,106 carat gem was mined in South Africa’s old Transvaal province in 1905 and presented to King Edward VII two years later.
South Africa won’t forget: The topic of colonial theft remains front of mind for many in South Africa, especially since the Queen’s death in September, which saw calls for reparations intensify. But, while it was hoped that the subject would come up during this visit, it remained swept under the carpet this week. Days before Ramaphosa left for the UK, a poll in South Africa’s Times newspaper saw 83% of readers say they wanted to see their president come back with the “stolen” gems. Two months earlier, South African MP Vuyo Zungula led reinvigorated calls for Britain to return the diamonds.
Tip-toeing around British colonialism: Speaking to Ramaphosa and 170 guests in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, he said, “While there are elements of that history which provoke profound sorrow, it is essential that we seek to understand them. As I said to Commonwealth leaders earlier this year, we must acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past if we are to unlock the power of our common future.” His words were certainly more than we had heard during previous South African visits. But he could have said so much more during Ramaphosa’s two days in London. Unlike Queen Elizabeth II, Charles’ reign has no connection to Britain’s colonial and imperial eras. Though 74 years old, he still represents a different time.
Charles didn’t do enough: This state visit has no doubt been the most significant task of Charles’ diplomatic duties since becoming King. And his dinner speech – complete with greetings representing the nine languages used in South Africa – certainly set a different, more equal tone compared to visits of the past. But it also wasn’t quite enough. Many South African leaders, ministers, and the ruling African National Congress party still harbour a scepticism of the Commonwealth and the British monarchy, and this trip could have helped begin to undo that. An opportunity to add new meaning for the two country’s historically important bilateral relationship.
The jewels can’t be hidden away forever: For next May’s coronation, Charles III will receive the Sovereign’s Sceptre and Camilla has the option of wearing the Queen Mother’s coronation crown with its 105 carat Koh-i-noor diamond. A spokesperson for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has already brought up the “painful memories of the colonial past” that the stolen stone represents and is exploring ways to get it returned. Leaving jewels such as these out of sight may be an easy way to avoid discussing the elephant in the room, but it won’t make it disappear. For that to happen, and to truly progress beyond the past, you have to actually address it head on. In other words, finally own it.
That’s the thing I don’t get about all of the stolen loot – if you can’t wear it and you can’t show it off, what good is keeping it? India has raised such a ruckus that Queen Camilla will never be able to wear the Koh-i-Noor. South Africa will holler if the Cullinan diamonds are worn too. There will be even bigger conversations about the stolen jewels which make up some of the “crown jewels” ahead of Charles’s coronation. Why not just…give them back? Why not say “yeah, that was a bad move 150 years ago, here are your diamonds.” I guess the British royals can’t do that because they believe it’s a slippery slope and if they give back one diamond, they’ll have to give back everything they stole, plus reparations. Which is exactly what should happen.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.
“…[U]nderwent a state visit.” Like he had to have a major surgery. LOL FOREVER
IKR? Makes it sound like he was getting his wisdom teeth pulled or something LOL!
Yes! I love this turn of phrase. The Windsors are definitely something to endure.
God forbid the Crown do the honorable thing. If they were to do it, perhaps US and other western European nations would do it too. Lord knows there is enough Money to pay reparations and still have money left over. I’m just sayin. It might actually make them look better.
There’s so much stolen wealth, it morphs into white nationalism. The rich enlist the poor whites to take up their cause by fomenting division based on race, so poor whites can feel better than and superior to rich everyone else, and fight to the death to maintain that “feeling,” while the rich whites sit back without dirtying a single hand in the insurrections. Maintaining stolen wealth is the root cause of racism worldwide.
I suspect the BRF thinks they did the world a favor with all their colonialism and they are, therefore, entitled to its spoils.
I think giving back the jewels is a start that can push others institution like the British Museum to do the same.
British Museum! I was there last week and it was kind of funny, reading all extensive explanation about how Lord This and That bought in-absolutely-legal-way these pieces of art. Like, I didn’t ask, but since you need to explain it in so many words, something is up.
That’s cause Elgin didn’t get them legally. His permit for getting them was bribed at best but most likely forged. He took them when Greece was being occupied by the Ottoman Empire and were actively resisting said occupation.
Also he effectively bankrupted his wife, who he married for her money, and cut her off from their children when she realized what an awful person he was and tried to leave him.
There’s a ton more about how it all went down that makes it look so bad.
Honestly, the first time I read their justification for keeping the Parthenon marbles right there in London I had to admire their audacity.
One of my favourite tweets of all time is still: name something that sounds British but isn’t – the contents of the British Museum.
I say this on every post about this topic so forgive me, lol, but a lot of people have genuinely never heard of it – they passed a law in 1963, the British Museum Act, that forbids the return of items in their collection unless approved by an Act of Parliament. They used this to explain why they would not repatriate Nazi-looted artworks in 2005. So they are fully aware and moved to protect their things decades ago.
On the British Museum website, they have a whole section on the Parthenon Marbles and the Museum’s history with them. They quite openly admit all the stupid ways they’ve damaged the Marbles with bad conservation methods and ill-advised cleaning techniques. There’s even a bit about how once they tried to bleach the Marbles so they would match better with the wallpaper. But, they still maintain that the planet has a better chance of seeing the Marbles in London than in Athens – like Greece is on the moon or something and doesn’t get 30 million tourists a year.
That law of 1963 is still in effect and does forbid the museum from disposing any of it’s holdings. I wonder why none of the speeches ever referenced this as in ” sorry but returning all the loot is out of my hands as it’s against the law”. Never hear about this unless someone brings it up, so thank you @C for reminding us about this interesting fact.
Exactly. *side eyes Vatican Art Collection*
One of the anti-Sussex trolls on TikTok posted a video of the Windsors with the South Africans and said “See! This is how King Charles responds to Harry and Megan saying they’re racist!” The person got rightly roasted. Honestly, Charles doesn’t decide who to do a state dinner for. The government tells him that he will do one. “I dined with a bunch of Black people as part of my Constitutional duty as Sovereign” does not equate to “I’m not a racist.”
The Queen had state dinners for Idi Amin and Vladimir Putin. If the govt asks for it, Chucky 3 will have state dinners for MBS of Saudi Arabia. State dinners are just business. As much as the royals tried to stay out of photographs with Donald Trump, truth be told they probably have a lot more in common with him in terms of racial attitudes than they are comfortable saying out loud. In fact, their treatment of Meghan proves that.
Of course, he’d have one for a Saudi. And agree to accept a bag of cash.
And if/when he has a state dinner for a Saudi, the “art” display will be a collection of bags to highlight the ties between the BRF and the Saudi royals. “And here is a Fortnum & Mason bag … And this is a Harrods bag … ooh, look — a Marks & Sparks bag! Feel free to fill at your leisure.”
They aren’t giving back any of the diamonds or other stolen loot for a few reasons. Obviously there is a concern that if they start with the Koh-i-noor, or the Cullinan, then they might have to give everything back, and they don’t want to do that. But also, they don’t think they should have to give them back. Charles and the other royals see nothing wrong with wearing those jewels. They think they deserve them.
I say they should wear them. Camilla should wear the Koh-i-noor loud and proud, and Charles should march up the street waving that sceptre with the Cullinan 1 Star of Africa like a Drum Major for an HBCU marching band. Let him two-step, double time, waving that Cullinan in the air. If they’re going to keep them, they ought to wear them. Surely a “little criticism” can’t hurt. They can just ignore it, just like they told Meghan to ignore the racism directed her way.
Greed and privilege.
And their fan girls coo over the jewels kate will get to wear as consort even though they are all stolen through war or taken by Queen Mary.
Queen Mary, the well-known kleptomaniac.
I think these people are happy to keep the treasures hidden away. I think they believe that , at some poin,people will forget how they were acquired. I believe they also love the power of the ownership of such treasures. I think that within the own elite circles, they do show these things off, but not in public. They and there ilk are not bothered by how these things were acquired. They and the people they associate with have ethics when it comes to treasures and money, because/and they all do it. No one on earth is as entitled as the titled.
Any other Aussie on here watching the excellent ABC Docco “Stuff The British Stole”? It’s fascinating.
Ooh, this sounds fascinating! I’m going to look for it.
Long shot but does anyone know if/how you can watch that documentary here in the UK? Its sounds fascinating.
There’s also a podcast of the same name you can listen to for free if you don’t live in Oz 😉
The royals will NEVER return any of the stolen jewels. To them, these jewels symbolize their white supremacy over all the countries they stole from. Nothing must be protected more than that ancient and unholy concept of white supremacy. In their minds, their superiority as white rulers is god-given and they will defend and uphold it to the end of time. There’s no way in hell those Brown and Black nations will have their rightful property returned. Never.
All of this.
You are absolutely correct @Beverley.
Giving them back would mean they have integrity, and the BRF (minus the Sussexes) has no more integrity than a cockroach. As CS Lewis put it…”Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking”.
While everyone (well, a lot of people) are looking at them and they continue to do absolutely the wrong things at every turn. That’s all you need to know about the BRF.
Giving stuff back would require a meticulous and honest audit of their loot — and they would never agree to that.
Charles wouldn’t ever admit to it, but he clearly believes in the divine right of kings to do whatever they hell they want.
Well, if they’ve done it for hundreds of years. . . Remember, the English NEVER give anything back. Remember the museum the broke Greeks built for the Elgin Marbles to shame the Brits into returning them. That museum is still sitting empty, as far as I know. Remember, never explain, never complain, never return stolen items. It’s in their DNA.
I actually think that by giving back the Koi-Noor (sp?) and ALL the other jewels that can be traced back to Britain’s colonial Era, Charles could FINALLY become the beloved monarch he so desperately wants to be. It would be seen as such a generous act, and the RIGHT response to DECADES of calls for the returning of these items that, when not falling on deaf ears, were told NO in the most patronizing way possible. This would also help Charles image as that if a frivolous man who ships his bedroom furniture every where he goes, among other things, at great expense to the taxpayer. He would be seen as understanding what REALLY matters, and let’s be real there will be plenty of jewels left over for the stupid royals.
Although I don’t know that Charles has any say in this matter, Britain should give back the Elgin marbles, the Nigerian bronzes, and every other artifact that can reasonably be proven to be STOLEN. My TV husband John Oliver did an excellent episode on this topic
Not the point of this post, but reader, I laughed at the juxtaposition of a chess set from Mandela, the Queen’s speech, royal tour artifacts…and a photo of Charles with the Spice girls that happened to have been taken in Johannesburg. One of those things is not like the others, right?
So, Charles said, “We must accept the wrongs which have shaped out past…” Well, this ultimate use of the passive voice shows that Charles can’t even acknowledge his country’s and family’s wrongs on a rhetorical level. Nobody was asking him to give an apology, but this pablum is like saying “Mistakes were made.” Add to that, the fact that they hid the jewels and instead displayed objects which were less relevant to their guest and his country, like the Spice Girls photo. So, I don’t hold out much hope of this family ever returning stolen jewels or any other artifacts to other countries.