A royal return brings nation back into fold

Last tour ended in the shadow of apartheid. Now the Queen is welcomed by black president Mrs Fernie is one of a dwindling minority of whites who cling to a British passport and British identity
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Excitement was growing in the Cape Town harbour-master's office as the Royal Yacht Britannia hove into view in Table Bay. Grey-haired Judith Fernie, kneeling awkwardly to steady her binoculars, burst into song:

"Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!" she trilled. The discomfort of her posture was nothing, she told friends, as "you don't feel pain at a time like this. It's like giving birth for Queen and Country".

Everybody in Mrs Fernie's office thrilled to the sight of the gleaming Britannia, with its great Union flags, Royal standards and White Ensigns billowing in a strong breeze. Bandsmen in white dress-uniforms oompahed on the upper deck. A flotilla of 50 yachts and speedboats saw the 412- foot-long ship into dock.

But like most South Africans, even from the 5 per cent white minority of English-speakers, the other office-workers shared only part of the excitement of the older generation. Mrs Fernie is one of a dwindling minority of whites who cling to British passports and a British identity.

The Queen hopes to reach out to the black community with visits to six poor townships, where she will doubtless get a lively, if puzzled reception. "If it was the Queen of Denmark, it would make no difference. It shows we are part of the rest of the world. We're so happy, I have got no words," said Patrick Tuytuymba, a 30-year-old worker who was one of the black South Africans watching the Queen disembark.

Most of the few thousand people who lined the jetties and yuppie eateries of Cape Town's new waterfront development were white housewives, older men in suits taking the morning off work and busloads of schoolchildren. The rest seemed content to watch it on television, if at all.

Things were very different 48 years ago. According to the Cape Times' record of the last visit, a quarter of a million people, almost the whole city, turned out to watch. It is unusual to meet any South African alive then who does not remember seeing the Royal party during their two-and- a-half-month tour.

In 1947, the centre of Cape Town was ready to the last "shred of bunting", with foliage wrapped around the lamp-posts. This time, only a series of severe illuminated blue plastic boxes advertised "The Royal Visit 1995" down the centre of Adderley Street. Just one building had hung out a Union flag.

"It is hardly worth spending a fortune on decoration for such a fleeting visit. The world has changed in 48 years," a Cape Town city council spokesman told a local newspaper. Shop-keepers said they could not be bothered to make an effort.

An hour before the Queen's hired Rolls-Royce was due to sweep up Adderley Street, just a few dozen hardened royalists had gathered with their cameras. Even the schoolchildren bused in to witness her walking from President Mandela's offices to parliament were used to easier entertainment.

"We spent four hours just to catch a glimpse of some bodyguards," said one cheerfully resentful schoolgirl. All clutched the transient souvenirs of their day out: an official paper bag with a fruit juice, a muffin, an explanatory note about parliament, paper flags and a little fill-in- your-name commemorative card. "I thought it would be more exciting. But it was sort of normal. The Queen was very small. And we expected her to talk to us," said another. The Queen was smiling happily as she passed by in bright sunshine. Beside her towered the tall figure of President Mandela and his First Lady of the day, Rochelle Mtirara, resplendent in regal orange hat and a burnt-orange Xhosa tribal blanket.

Nobody on Mr Mandela's staff seemed sure exactly who Miss Mtirara was, except that she was a princess from the President's branch of the Xhosa nation and that she was a close enough relative for the 76-year-old President to consider her a grand-daughter.

State protocol no longer has a place for Mr Mandela's estranged wife, Winnie, beset with allegations of sleaze and disloyalty to the government of national unity. His two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, are more usual substitutes.

"The Queen is out of town, and will be back on Wednesday," said a half- joking note pinned to Mrs Mandela's office door by a member of her staff.

South Africa's some dozen tribal kings and queens flocked to President Mandela's welcoming banquet for 400 guests last night in a central Cape Town hotel ball-room. Any protocol problem of inviting kings with "one of their wives" was simply solved by seating them as "King So-and-so and Partner".

As Cape Town newspapers started to fill whole pages with glowing reports about the Queen's visit, the state-owned SA FM national radio-station continued its idiosyncratic coverage of the royal tour. Yesterday Tony Benn was the guest commentator for the morning news. Mr Benn reassured South African listeners that the Queen was still respected and that her visit was a sign of genuine British friendship. But he felt he should set straight the record about the nature of Britain's involvement in South Africa after it took over from the Dutch in 1795.

"We did nothing whatsoever for the African population," Mr Benn said. "And the whole hypocrisy that the monarch speaks for freedom is absolutely ludicrous. Now that you are free, maybe we should take a step in that direction."

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