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Cape greets the Queen

The Queen flew into Cape Town yesterday and took a helicopter to the royal yacht Britannia for what promised to be a choppy overnight voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.

Today she begins a six-day tour of South Africa with a grand welcome on the Cape Town waterfront, three 21-gun salutes, a speech to parliament, a probable exchange of honours with President Nelson Mandela and a grand banquet to be shared with up to 15 South African tribal kings and queens.

Yesterday she staged what a Buckingham Palace spokesman called an "administrative arrival". "She said: `It's good to be back in South Africa after 48 years'. I welcomed her and said her arrival was good for South Africa," said Thabo Mbeki, the Deputy President, whose only memory of her last, pre-apartheid, trip as Princess Elizabeth were the souvenir mugs used in his home. "Her visit is a sign of the strength of relations between this country and the United Kingdom," he said.

Cars jammed Cape Town airport, but most contained families welcoming relatives back from the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. A few rushed over when they saw the Queen's Boeing 767 taxi to a halt amid bands of reporters, a thin line of British officials in tightly cut suits, and military men in old-fashioned uniforms pressed to a razor's edge.

Only a handful of onlookers had gone out of their way to be on hand for the "administrative arrival". "It's a once-in-a lifetime opportunity," enthused Daryn Fisher, standing on a dusty approach road with his wife and three restless young children. "Once the boys have seen it on TV, it'll click that they've seen something historic."

Media reports have been whimsical. Cape Town's Weekend Argus said corgi- owners will parade during the Queen's walkabout tomorrow. Johannesburg's Sunday Times pictured drag queens in crowns, saying the gay community planned a welcome today.