Seventy five years ago a young Princess Elizabeth visited South Africa and Southern Rhodesia with her father King George VI, her mother Queen Elizabeth I, and her sister Princess Margaret.
It was 1947 and the occasion was a British Royal Tour and “arranged as a ‘thank you’ to the people of southern Africa for their support during the Second World War” (Peter Roberts, 2017: Footsteps Through Time: A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls).
Princess Elizabeth turned 21 during that tour and on a radio broadcast to mark the occasion she spoke about two words which would become her life’s work and her legacy to the world. Those words were “I serve” and they continue to be words we ask for, look for and expect from the men and women who are and want to be our leaders.
An extract from that speech 75 years ago:
“As I speak to you today from Cape Town I am six thousand miles from the country where I was born. But I am certainly not six thousand miles from home.
“Everywhere I have travelled in these lovely lands of South Africa and Rhodesia my parents, my sister and I have been taken to the heart of their people and made to feel that we are just as much at home here as if we had lived among them all our lives.
“There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors – a noble motto, ‘I serve’.
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Six years later Princess Elizabeth became Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and in a radio broadcast to mark her coronation in 1953, she said: “When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God’s help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.”
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited our country again on a Royal Visit for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1991 in Harare.
Speaking at a state banquet hosted in her honour by [former] president [the late Robert] Mugabe, she said: “Contemporary history is showing us daily that good government and equality of opportunity can overcome differences of race, culture or religion.”
At that time South Africa was nearing the end of apartheid and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said: “I pray that the process of positive change in South Africa may be successfully continued. Heads of government in Harare will certainly do their best, I am sure, to give it every encouragement.”
Despite the desperate situation Zimbabwe now finds itself in, a country riddled with corruption, greed and self-enrichment, the words of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 remain as true as they ever were.
The lands are still lovely and the people still have and show a loving heart to all they meet.
I join the world in mourning the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her life of service an example to us all.