The Queen and Jacob Zuma

Andrew Donaldson |

20 September 2022

Andrew Donaldson says mourning has broken in the UK


MOURNING has broken, as Cat Stevens may have put it, and there are signs that normal life, as we once knew it, will return this week now that the queen has finally been laid to rest. 

Monday’s funeral service in Westminister Abbey was the culmination of a ten-day period marked not only by grief and sorrow but a deluge of sentimentality and nostalgia in the UK as Elizabeth II’s subjects paid their respects to the late monarch and declared their unstinting loyalty to the Crown.

Not being a monarchist, it felt a bit North Korean at times. For four extraordinary days, hundreds of thousands shuffled past the queen’s coffin during her lying-in-state at Westminster Hall. The queue was five miles long at its lengthiest, and officials had to turn people back at times. Then a second queue formed to join the first queue once it had shortened. 

Journalists pounced on the story. An innate instinct to queue! How very English! What an extraordinary expression of patriotism! No other nation in the world … and on and on it went, the weird gabbling on radio and television. 

The funeral service was watched by almost 30 million people in the UK, according to official data. But despite the overwhelming coverage, the commemoration did not meet predictions of becoming the most-watched broadcast in UK history. That honour went to the Euro 2020 final, when 31 million England football fans had their dreams shattered by Italy.


As expected, there have been complaints about the wall-to-wall coverage. One columnist noted that the BBC’s commentators had slowed down their speech, possibly to reduce the number of times they repeated themselves.

That was a bit unkind, I felt, as the endless interviews with anyone who had met the queen in their course of their lives must have been gruelling. What can one learn other than that she was  quite wonderful, slavishly devoted to the service of her people and extremely fond of horses?

There were exceptions, of course. One person who attracted my attention was Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6. He had met with the queen on numerous occasions, and was asked about his favourite encounter. It involved Jacob Zuma. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It was, he said, at a reception at the time of Zuma’s 2010 state visit. The queen, Sawers explained, had heard that the president was somewhat “unsavoury”. When she introduced them, she told uBaba that Sawers was her “top spy”.