Royal watchers were incredibly touched to see Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry holding hands when they arrived at both of their engagements at the beginning of their royal tour of South Africa on Sept. 23. Royal PDA is still considered rare, though the Sussexes are known for joining hands and showing each other love at events they attend.
But there is additional meaning in their affection on this tour, since there was a time Meghan and Harry likely would not have been able to hold hands in public in South Africa.
Twenty-five years ago this past April, South Africa had its first fully democratic election after decades of institutionalized racism under the apartheid system. It encouraged the repression and disenfranchisement of people of colour from the late 1940s (though its roots date back to the 18 th century) until 1991, when apartheid legislation was finally repealed.
It is especially worth noting that the very first apartheid law passed was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act in 1949, which banned marriages between “Europeans” and “non-Europeans.” It was followed by the Population Registration and Immorality Acts in 1950. These required all people living in South Africa to register as one of four ethnic groups that were defined by the government, and also prohibited any romantic and sexual relationships between people in different groups.
On Sept. 23, Harry and Meghan arrived at the District 6 Museum holding hands, as they had in the morning upon getting to their first engagement of the tour. The District 6 Museum is located in a Cape Town neighbourhood that was deeply affected by apartheid. Prior to 1966, District 6 had been a very multi-ethnic and multicultural area of Cape Town. But that year, the South African government began the forcible removal of thousands of people. By 1982, more than 60,000 people of colour had their homes in District 6 bulldozed and had been rehoused in a township more than 25 kilometres away.
While Harry and Meghan were greeted by Bonita Bennett, the Director of the District 6 Museum, behind them was a quote from American poet Langston Hughes, who was also a prominent civil rights activist from the 1940s to 1960s. It is from his poem Dreams, and reads, “Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” The same quote can be found on the floor of the museum, which contains a large map of the neighbourhood. Meghan and Harry were shown that map by former residents of District 6.
It has only been a relatively short time that South Africans have had the ability to love who they choose. As Harry and Meghan sat next to each other at the District 6 Homecoming Centre and enjoyed sweets and tea, they exchanged a tender moment when Harry passed Meghan part of a samosa he had been eating so they could share it. It was a normal, sweet gesture between a couple who love each other, and as such it was also incredibly poignant.
Meghan and Harry will spend Sept. 23 to 25 in Cape Town, after which Harry will make separate visits to Botswana, Angola and Malawi before returning to South Africa for the tour to wrap in Johannesburg on Oct. 2. They want to incorporate Archie, their four-month-old son, into one of their engagements, but aren’t sure how yet.