Meghan & Harry: Is ‘The Commonwealth’ still a thing?

Queen Elizabeth, as it is shown in the hit series loosely based on the royals, The Crown, feels a deep sense of responsibility and love for the Commonwealth: a group of countries tied together by their common history as former British colonies, however controversial that may be. 

RELATED: How Meghan and Harry’s South African plan was scuppered by powerful royal insiders

The idea that young people in these countries even buy into the idea of being part of the Commonwealth is debatable, given heightened sensitivities around racial injustice and the legacy of colonialism.

But one thing is certain, many of these generation are likely to resonate with the struggles Meghan Markle faced as a person of colour in a white institution.

So, who better to navigate the contentious territory of appealing to “the Commonwealth” than someone schooled in the complexities of race and identity? Before Meghan even met Harry, she wrote compellingly about her identity as a biracial woman. 

As Harry put it during the couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey: “I mean, here you have one of the greatest assets to the Commonwealth that the family could have ever wished for.”

While it would be easy for cynics to mock royal tours and “duties”, the fact is it’s an important diplomatic and socioeconomic act that royals are called to perform, in exchange for their partially taxpayer-funded lifestyle. ere

They would be incredible ambassadors for the aging institution in a changing world – especially to younger people. 

Following the interview, a snap YouGov poll found the British public split on whether the couple were treated fairly or unfairly by the royal family. It found 32% believed they were treated unfairly, while an equal proportion did not, and 36% did not know. Nearly half (48%) of 18- to 24-year-olds sided with Harry and Meghan, while 55% of over-65s supported the Queen. This generational split would be reflected across the world. 

As we reported here, in their Sunday bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle confirmed that they once considered moving to South Africa, in a solution backed by the Queen. The plan was seemingly scuppered by high ranking court officials. 

This was first alleged in a book by royal historian Robert Lacey published at the end of last year, and confirmed by Meghan and Harry’s own comments during the often emotional two hour special, on CBS. 

It was on the South African tour a year later that Meghan really showed what she was made of. Given the country’s typical preoccupations with all things political, the royals’ arrival was welcomed by the country’s media and people but not overly picked apart. 

Instead, their well-researched and deeply thoughtful touches throughout their tour resonated with many South Africans. Their tour in SA came in the wake of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana’s brutal murder, at the hands of a Post Office worker, that had set the country ablaze. A month later, Meghan quietly paid tribute to the slain young women, tying a ribbon at the memorial outside the Post Office branch where Mrwetyana was killed. 

Markle also spoke with Mrwetyana’s mother.

Meghan may have told Oprah about how hard it was having to do her own research to fit in as a royal. But she’s clearly a careful researcher. Her speeches throughout her South African tour were done without notes, easy enough for the former Suits actress, but clearly deeply prepared and compassionate. 

They chose the township of Nyanga in Cape Town as their first stop. At the time, the area had recorded the country’s highest murder rates.

Speaking to workers at nonprofit, The Justice Desk, in Nyanga, Meghan said: “While I am here with my husband as a member of the Royal family, I want you to know that for me I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour and as your sister. I am here with you and I am here FOR you.”

She wore a dress by a small but authentic South African designer, Hannah Lavery, during a visit to the Youth Employment Scheme. 

And while Helen Zille, one of the main leaders of the country’s official opposition, would later make incredibly unkind remarks about Meghan, the country is, in the main, black and young. They resonated with Meghan, and social media generally shows an outpouring of support for her. 

The couple still hold the titles “Duke and Duchess of Sussex” – for now. 

Markle told former South African First Lady and activist Graça Machel before they concluded their tour: “We’ve met the most incredible people,” before describing South Africa as the most “energising” place. Harry added: “Although I’ve spent a great deal of time here over the years, this visit, in particular, has filled us with hope and optimism.”

The Duke of Sussex has often referred to Africa as his “second home,” partly because he found a connection through the continent to his mother, Princess Diana, and felt it brought a sense of normalcy and comfort. “This is where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world,” he once said, according to a previous News24 report.

As Harry bluntly put it in the Oprah interview, the trouble started when Meghan’s popularity became clear after the Australia tour. He called it history repeating itself, referring to Diana’s own successful tour in that country and subsequent fall from grace. 

Asked by Oprah whether it had sparked jealousy, the pair kept quiet.

It was while on a royal tour in 2019 that Meghan first revealed an inkling of the deep emotional turmoil she was facing. In a now famous interview with foreign correspondent Tom Bradby she said: “I’m not OK,” before politely thanking him for asking. It was the theme for her vulnerable November 2020 op-ed for the New York Times, documenting her miscarriage and subsequent struggles. 

So the Commonwealth, and South African plan, never worked out. More’s the pity. As Meghan put it in Sunday’s interview: “Growing up as a woman of colour, as a little girl of colour, I know how important representation is. I know how you want to see someone who looks like you in certain positions.”