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Duke speaks of ‘feeling overwhelmed’ during visit to mosque

The Auwal mosque was built in 1794 during British occupation of the Cape of Good Hope.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Tim Rooke/PA)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Tim Rooke/PA)

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The Duke of Sussex has spoken of feeling so “overwhelmed” by the world’s problems that he sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the mornings.

Harry, 35, who has previously spoken of his mental health struggles, made the comments during the second day of his visit tour of South Africa with Meghan, as the couple visited the Cape Town’s oldest mosque.

During their visit, which aimed to highlight interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, Harry and Meghan met with representatives of the Church of England and Rabbis together with Christian, Jewish and Muslim youth leaders, including students who are participating in the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative.

The programme works with 15- to 18-year-olds to help develop respect for people from different religions, faiths cultures and backgrounds and an appreciation of the value of diversity.

Among them was Peter Oki, 18, an Anglican Christian, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, who moved to Cape Town five years ago and attended a Jewish school.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the mosque with a group of students, having removed their shoes, the couple heard how Peter was the only black student at his school.

“It was rather difficult to begin with,” he said. “I was often asked by other students what I was doing at a Jewish school, but I have taken programmes and organised activities to try and deconstruct the barriers and obliterate stereotypes among young people.

“I also organised fundraising dances at school to raise money for a local Muslim school, and by the time I matriculated last year, I was head boy.”

Peter, who now studies politics and sociology at the University of Cape Town, said he asked Harry and Meghan what they wanted their “legacy” to be.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a visit to Auwal Mosque (Tim Rooke/PA)

“Harry said that he often woke up and felt overwhelmed by too many problems in the world,” said Peter. “That sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed in the mornings because of all the issues. But he wanted to use their platform to enable grass-roots change and to try and create a better society.”

During their visit to the Auwal Mosque in the Bo-Kaap district, the couple also heard from Banzi Bottoman, 17, a Christian who attends Gardens Commercial High School.

He told them: “Just because someone looks different to how I do, that doesn’t make me inferior to anyone else. We need to build bridges between people of different heritages.”

Meghan, who wore a floor-length olive dress and cream headscarf, told him: “That was just so meaningful, it gave me chills.” Harry, thumping his chest, said: “You can feel that you’re speaking from here.”

The Duchess of Sussex during the visit (Tim Rooke/PA)

Earlier, the couple had been welcomed to the mosque by Imam Sheikh Ismail Londt, the Muslim community leader Mohamed Groenwald and Father Weeder, the Dean of Cape Town.

They also met Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican who was born in New Zealand but moved to South Africa to campaign against segregation during the apartheid era whose hands were blown off in 1990 by a letter bomb.

In April 1990, three months after ANC leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert outfit of the apartheid security forces.

It was hidden inside two religious magazines that he was expecting in the mail. The explosion resulted in the loss of both hands and the sight in his left eye, together with seriously burns which kept him in hospital for several months.

He said: “Shaking hands is obviously not natural for me so I went to hug the Duchess and her response was “thank you”.

“I received a warm hug from both Harry and Meghan, I could tell immediately they are warm people who mean well. I was only invited the day before the event so I was very honoured to meet them.

“Harry immediately motioned to my hands and said ‘letter bomb?’ It was instinctive on his part and it was a good conversation starter.

“No one has ever taken responsibility for my injuries so I don’t know who did it, I don’t know the chain of command, I don’t know why.

“But I have been on a healing journey and I would say I am not full of hatred, I am not bitter, I don’t want revenge – but actually, forgiveness is not on the table, but if someone were to come to me then it’s on the table and I would be very open to that journey.

“In terms of Harry and Meghan’s visit, I believe their tone, the way they are speaking has been quite beautiful. There’s a naturalness, a warmth, a genuineness that is communicating from them and they have been very well received.”

During their visit to the mosque, the couple viewed the first known manuscript of the Koran in South Africa, which was drafted by Imam Tuan Guru (first Imam) from memory while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.

The Auwal mosque was built in 1794 during British occupation of the Cape of Good Hope. Islam was first introduced in South Africa by exiled Muslim leaders and Cape Malay slaves more than 300 years ago.

Prior to British occupation, slaves were not allowed to worship Islam. Today, for the Muslim community, the mosque symbolises the freedom of former slaves to worship.



From Belfast Telegraph