Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, began their first official tour as a family Monday with their infant son, Archie, in South Africa, with Meghan declaring to cheers that “I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour and as your sister.”
The first day of their 10-day, multi-country tour started in Cape Town with visits to girls’ empowerment projects that teach rights and self-defence. Harry danced a bit as a musical welcome greeted them in the township of Nyanga, whose location was not made public in advance because of security concerns.
Violent crime is so deadly in parts of Cape Town that South Africa’s military has been deployed in the city, and its stay was extended last week. Frustration over high unemployment and lack of services also has exploded into protests and attacks on foreigners elsewhere in South Africa in recent weeks.
“As someone who has visited this amazing country many times, and as someone who regards Cape Town as a uniquely special place in Africa, I wanted to ensure that our first visit as a family — with my wife by my side — focused on the significant challenges facing millions of South Africans, while acknowledging the hope that we feel so strongly here,” the prince said.
He urged South African men to turn their back on toxic masculinity as his wife Meghan applauded girls for “standing up for what’s right.”
A small excited crowd gathered to greet the royal pair as they arrived to visit Justice Desk, a human rights charity, where they surprised young girls in the middle of a self-defence class.
South Africa is one of the world’s most dangerous places, particularly for women. At least 137 sexual offences are committed per day, according to official figures. In August alone, more than 30 women were killed by their spouses.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to crack down on perpetrators after “femicide” protests flared across the country this month.
Prince Harry, clad in a light-blue linen shirt and sneakers, joined Meghan, in a patterned black-and-white dress, as they hugged children and danced with them before entering the charity premises.
Surprised girls yanked off their boxing gloves to hear the couple speak.
“Touching on what your President said last week — no man is born to cause harm to women,” said Prince Harry.
“It’s about redefining masculinity, it’s about creating your own footprints for your children to follow in, so that you can make a positive change for the future.”
Meghan, a mixed-race American who has been advocating women’s rights long before marrying Harry in 2017, congratulated girls “standing up for what’s right in the face of adversity”.
“While I’m here with my husband and as a member of the royal family, I am here as a mother, a wife, a woman of colour and your sister,” she added, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Demonstrations in South Africa have been mounting over the rising toll of murders, rapes and abuse of women and girls, and a sense of impunity that surrounds it.
A walk through history
The couple later toured District Six museum, a memorial to the expulsion of some 60,000 non-white residents from the city centre during apartheid.
The Duke and Duchess — who describes herself as “half black and half white” — were thrust into South Africa’s history and life under the apartheid regime, which classed and divided people according to their skin colour.
Those defined as “black” or “coloured” were considered second-class citizens and only allowed in “white-only” areas provided they had a pass.
For some in South Africa, the presence of a royal with mixed heritage could make this visit particularly special.
“My mom really wanted to be here, that why we came. Meghan is a role model to me and my sister,” said Shazia Ebrahim, a 22-year-old architect student standing outside District Six.
Her mother Mishkah Ebrahim, 55, told AFP she regularly followed the couple’s life.
Harry first visited Africa when he was 13 and has since travelled widely across the continent.
After spending a gap year in Lesotho, he jointly founded the charity Sentebale in 2006 to help support children affected by HIV.
The trip marks Archie’s first major public appearance since his birth in May.
At less than five months old, the baby will become one of the youngest royals to take part in an official visit.
The duke and duchess have largely kept their son out of the spotlight, and some royal fans felt cheated when his christening was held privately.
He last appeared in public on the sidelines of a royal charity polo match in July, and has yet to make an outing on South African soil.
Justice Desk posted a video message on Twitter to welcome the baby.
“We know the Duke loves South Africa, and as a proudly South African gift to baby Archie we want to give him the name ‘Ntsika’... which means bold and brave.”
Harry’s busy schedule
The family is to remain together until Wednesday, when Harry will travel alone to Botswana, Angola and Malawi.
He will visit conservation and HIV prevention projects, and a cleared minefield in Angola through which his late mother Princess Diana famously crossed in 1997.
The duchess will remain in South Africa, where she will conduct various activities to raise awareness about women’s rights.
She and Archie will reunite with Harry in Johannesburg next week, where they will complete the last day of the tour together and fly back on October 2.
In South Africa, the family will meet Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Graca Machel — widow of the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.