What on earth was the Firm thinking?

Andrew Donaldson on the train smash that was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Caribbean tour


WHATEVER we may feel about them, royal tours are newsworthy events. Even the editor of the Die Transvaler could not avoid mention of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 southern African safari in the pages of his Afrikaner nationalist fish-wrap. Hendrik Verwoerd summed up the event more or less in these words: “There was a traffic jam in Cape Town when Mr and Mrs Windsor arrived from England with their family.” The newspaper published not another word about the seven-week tour.

At the more imperial end of the spectrum, there was this frothy giddiness from the pages of a children’s novel, in which a British teenager, new to Africa, recounts her emotions at seeing the royal party’s motorcade in the streets of then Salisbury: “It was like something in a fairy-tale . . . isn’t it wonderful — us being here like this, to welcome them? Seeing our King and Queen among all these people we didn’t know, a year ago? It just goes to show, England or Rhodesia — it’s all one really!” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Which brings us to the train smash that was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Caribbean tour. General consensus here in the UK is: Nice enough couple, William and Kate, but what on earth was the Firm thinking? That a time-travelling jaunt to the last century would put a stop to this republicanism taking hold in one’s former possessions?

As a public relations exercise this was a disaster. The images of the outstretched arms of Jamaican children reaching through a fence separating them from the royal couple harked back to the era of William’s grandparents. In fact, the photographs of the Cambridges touring Kingston in an open gari were almost mirror images of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they were trundled around the Jamaican capital in an identical vehicle almost 70 years ago. Even the “flagwear”, those diplomatically colour-coordinated outfits were practically the same.

“Why,” the columnist Camilla Long, writing in the Sunday Times, wanted to know, “continue making this benighted family do all this dismal glad-handing when we know they cannot win? What does it say about [the UK] as a nation, that we pick over their humiliation for our entertainment? After many months of hiding from a deadly virus, everyone should have known no-one is going to be up for two Sloaney honkers swanning around in an open-topped Land Rover in expensive headgear, least of all the fiery Jamaicans. What will it take to restore order? Not William grovelling about slavery.”

And, unfortunately, these tours do serve as a blunt reminder of where all that fabulous wealth came from, and how it fell into the monarchy’s hands. This may well have been at the back of Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness’s mind when he told William and Kate that his country would like to “move on”, that it wants to independent of the realm, and that, frankly, there were a few “unresolved issues” to discuss. Which must have been a bit of a rude shock for the couple. Where was all that goodwill that they geed up by paying tribute to Bob Marley?

Back home, even as an increasingly frail Queen Elizabeth II, 96 next month, managed to attend Tuesday’s memorial service for her late husband, there is a “sense of an ending in the gilded corridors”, as Private Eye put it. The Palace press office has been doing its utmost to keep HM in the public eye but “the familiar Brenda, out and about, hatted and handbagged, is a thing of the past”. 

After the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June, we can expect a few more Commonwealth nations to follow Barbados and Jamaica in dropping ERII as their head of state.

Royal treatment

Hard to believe, perhaps, but we had a bit of royalty in our neighbourhood, back in the day, and for several years the standard of Albania’s House of Zogu fluttered from a flagpole in the backyard of a modest suburban pile in Bryanston, north of Johannesburg.

This was one of the homes of Crown Prince Leka, whose long life in exile in various countries when his father, King Zog, fled Tirana after the country was invaded by Mussolini in April 1939 and declared an Italian protectorate. Leka was then a newly-born infant, just two days old.

After the Second World War, Enver Hoxha’s communist regime scrapped the monarchy and barred Zog from returning to Albania. He spent the rest of his life in France. Upon his death in 1961, Leka was proclaimed the Albanian king by a hastily convened “government-in-exile” who had gathered at a Paris hotel. The French considered him a bit of an embarrassment, and expelled him from the country shortly afterwards, and he settled in Franco’s Spain.

In 1975, Leka married former teacher Susan Cullen-Ward, the divorced daughter of an Australian sheep farmer. Plucked from the relative obscurity of the ocker middle classes, she would go on to lead a turbulent life with Leka. The Australian authorities, initially refused to recognise her newly acquired royal status, but a compromise of sorts was eventually reached, and she was issued with a passport in the name of “Susan Cullen-Ward, known as Queen Susan”.

The couple were asked to leave Spain when what was described as an arms cache was found in their Madrid home. They chose to settle in what was then Rhodesia. En route, Leka’s chartered aircraft landed in Gabon for refuelling — and was promptly surrounded by troops reportedly hired by the Hoxha regime to place him under arrest. Leka reportedly negotiated the couple’s departure armed with a bazooka.

The couple fled further southwards after Zimbabwe became independent and were given diplomatic status by PW Botha’s government. Their only son, Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe Zogu, was born in March 1982. At the time of his birth, the government temporarily declared the maternity ward at the Sandton Clinic to be Albanian territory, thus ensuring he was born on native soil. This, unsurprisingly, was not welcomed by the Hoxha regime.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Albania transitioned to multi-party rule. In 1993, Leka was permitted to re-enter the country for the first time since his departure as a baby in 1939. He did so under a passport issued by his own exiled royal court, in which his occupation was listed as “king”.

He returned again in 1997, at the height of what is now known as the Albanian civil war, a conflict sparked by the collapse of pyramid schemes that sprang up as the country transitioned to a market economy.

The violence left more than 2 000 dead and toppled the Tirana government. In addition to the parliamentary elections that followed, Albanians also participated in a referendum on restoring the monarchy. Two thirds of voters rejected the proposal, an outcome that Leka refused to accept, claiming the referendum was rigged.

In truth, though, the Albanians had had enough of this king stuff. As monarchs go, Leka’s father, Zog, was a bit of an embarrassment. Born into a family of feudal landlords, Ahmed Muhtar bey Zogoli entered politics at a young age, changing his name to Ahmet Zogu in 1922, when at the age of 27, he became Albania’s youngest ever prime minister. Three years later, he declared himself president, and finally king in 1928. 

He also installed himself as the country’s supreme military commander, and was thus able to retain the dictatorial powers he enjoyed as president. To be fair, there had been attempts to modernise Albania. Zog abolished Islamic law in 1929, adopting in its place a civil code. In 1938, he opened Albania’s borders to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. 

The problem, at least as far as Europe’s other royal families were concerned, is that Zog was a self-proclaimed king. Proper royalty came about from decades of in-breeding and plunder. It’s simply not done to give oneself this divine right. No Albanian royals, we note, were present at the Duke of Edinburgh’s service. But then again, neither were any Zulu monarchs.

Coughing up

The Receiver, it’s claimed, has handed the ANC a bill of more than R102-million for unpaid taxes. Last week the independent Weekly SA Mirror reported that the Gauteng High Court has issued a civil judgment instructing the sheriff to attach the party’s assets to the value of R102 546 580.76. That judgment was handed down in December last year, and it’s a bit of a mystery as to why this hasn’t been more widely reported.

However, and suffice it to say, ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile has responded to questions about the party’s parlous financial affairs with a novel explanation: there have been “occasional cash flow problems”. As he told 702’s Clement Manyathela Show this week: “There were challenges in the past as prior to 2018, we came in as this new leadership, we found a situation where tax compliance was not very rigorous, as a result the organisation was in serious arrears.” 

How easy on the ears that sounds. Our compliance has not been all that rigorous. Perhaps other tax evaders may wish to adopt a similar approach with the taxman. 

Below the belt 

Further to colleague David Bullard’s inquiry into that most vexing of questions, What is a woman?, it would seem that the London Sunday Times columnist, in his comments on the matter, has produced what some regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) consider a memorable pun. “One day soon,” Liddle wrote, “this absurd delusion will simply disappear and normal cervix will be resumed.”

Not anytime soon, though. This appeared in The Times this morning: “Labour’s deputy leader [Angela Rayner] has said it is not acceptable to ask a woman whether she has a penis, but insisted there were circumstances under which a man could be asked whether he was pregnant.”

Discuss among yourselves.