JOHANNESBURG - Britain’s newly-married Prince Harry has had a long love affair with the African continent. He spent his post-graduation year in Lesotho, launched a children’s charity there and fell in love with his bride-to-be in Botswana. Africa is also the couple’s rumored honeymoon destination. Royal watchers are betting he and Meghan Markle will celebrate their recent marriage in the southern African nation of Namibia, known for its sand dunes and pristine beaches.
That love for Africa shone through, observers said, at the wedding. Ululating guests gave the celebration an African flavor, while impassioned musical performances and a stirring homily from a prominent African-American theologian spoke to the difficult, painful — and jubilant — history of people of African descent around the world.
As the couple — now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — said their vows in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, millions of royal watchers across Africa watched raptly. They included Lesotho’s former foreign minister, while that nation’s crown prince had the unique distinction of being the only non-English royal invited to the wedding.
Former foreign minister Mamphono Khaketla said she was “glued” to her TV for the wedding. She met the prince four years ago when he visited Lesotho.
“He's a very charming young boy,” she told VOA, with a laugh, adding, “He was at that point. He’s not very tied up, you know. Very humble and down to Earth, he was.”
‘I choose them both’
The Duchess of Sussex has shown her own fondness for Africa, remarking during a 2016 trip to Rwanda that, “My life shifts from refugee camps to red carpets. I choose them both because these worlds can, in fact, coexist.”
Khaketla said she hopes the couple will continue their charitable activities. In Lesotho, that work has made a big difference, she said.
“It has actually helped us put Lesotho on the map, on the world’s map,” she said. “Sometimes, governments, we try, but if you have somebody of that stature coming to your country and doing what he has done — it has helped to destigmatize HIV and AIDS, and you can see that some of the children he started working with are young adults.”
‘I thought it was great’
It’s not only their charity that has captivated viewers in Africa. Lungile Zakwe is executive director of IkamvaYouth, a nongovernmental organization that works with young and disadvantaged South Africans. She describes herself as a “proud African feminist.”
She has become a regular guest on South African radio shows because of something a little more personal. Her Prince Charming — whom she prefers to call her “life partner” — is white.
Until 1985, it was illegal for mixed race couples to marry in South Africa. Zakwe said she applauds the royal family for normalizing interracial relationships. Markle is the daughter of an African American mother and white father.
“People just try to understand, ‘How can two people from such different worlds come together and accept each other?’ And usually what comes up — and I’m sure it comes up for Meghan herself — is, How can you be pro-black and yet spend your life with somebody from another racial group?’ And for me, I find that it always makes me uncomfortable. I find it problematic, because of course you can be pro-black and still be in love with somebody from another racial group,” Zakwe said.
Hairstylist Lisa-May Hagemann said she felt the ceremony was the most inclusive royal wedding she has ever seen. The duchess honored several African nations in the Commonwealth, including South Africa, by having their flowers embroidered on her 5-meter veil.
“I loved the whole African theme that went with it — maybe not so much the pastor — I think he went a little bit overboard," she said, referring to the lively, nearly 15-minute homily delivered by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding head of the U.S. Episcopal Church. “But definitely the choir that sang. I think it just brought a little bit of diversity to it. I didn't think the queen was very happy with it, but yes, I thought it was great.”
‘It’s about damn time’
Zakwe, who is unmarried, said she was thrilled at the optics of the wedding.
“I think as black people, people of color, this is our time,” she said. “And it’s always been our time. And it’s beautiful that there were ululations, there was a black priest, there were black people in the audience. That’s great, that’s fantastic, and it’s about damn time. But as I say, this has been happening to other normal people on the ground who fall in love, and it’s interesting this time around because this particular wedding, for obvious reasons, has more of a spotlight shone on it.”
Zakwe said something else clearly shone through the talented choir, the pomp, the diamonds and the guest list. What shone through, she said, was a powerful force — one that transcends race, language and borders: love.