In some corner of a foreign veld . . .: Things are looking up for Tory expats in South Africa - Jeffrey Archer and 'The Two Ronnies' are on their way

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The Independent Online
'LET'S face it, if we wanted to watch The Two Ronnies the only way we could do it was by getting the videotapes flown out all the way from Britain - it really was deprivation]'

Frank Fryer-Edwards, one of South Africa's 450,000 British passport holders, endured a keen sense of loss during the apartheid years. While never regretting his decision to abandon Barnet for Johannesburg in 1972, the campaign of international isolation during the years of John Vorster and P W Botha did demand sacrifices.

'I particularly remember when they showed the royal wedding on TV,' he said. 'We saw everything, but because of the Equity ban, we were not allowed to hear the singing of the choir - they just dubbed it out. That kind of thing made you feel disconnected from Britain, really forgotten.'

Mr Fryer-Edwards, 71, is chairman of the Transvaal branch of the 1820 Settlers Association. The object of the 7,000-strong association is to preserve Britain's cultural heritage in South Africa.

A retired metallurgist, Mr Fryer-Edwards has embraced the good things South Africa has to offer: 'the best weather in the world'; a considerably more affluent life-style than he would have enjoyed back home (private education, for example, for his son at Johannesburg's St John's School and his daughter at the local Roedean); and 'a respect for authority that was fading when we left Britain in the Seventies'.

But he does miss his north London golf club and has never ceased to be anything other than a true blue Brit. 'I swore allegiance to the Queen, and have always had a Union Jack tattooed to my chest.'

John Major's visit to South Africa last week was of immense significance to Mr Fryer-Edwards. The prime ministerial stamp of approval has made him grateful for the changes in the new South Africa and restored his missing link to Britain. It has even awakened an interest in politics.

Not, let it be understood, in South African politics - 'All I can say about this place is that the government was always arrogant and bigoted, and now it's probably even more arrogant and bigoted' - but in British politics. 'Just this week,' he said, 'I've been filling in the form for membership of British Conservatives Abroad.'

The BCA branch in South Africa was set up four years ago after the Thatcher government, spotting the main chance, passed a law that greatly expanded the number of overseas UK residents eligible to vote in British elections. Previously, if you had been out of the country for more than five years, you forfeited the right to vote. Margaret Thatcher extended the grace period to 20 years.

Keith Turnbull, chairman of BCA in South Africa, said he calculated that the effect of the law had been to increase from under 100,000 to about 350,000 the number of South African residents able to send their postal votes to Britain. He said most of them were likely to be Conervatives.

Mr Turnbull emigrated to South Africa in 1976, the year of the Soweto riots, having just graduated in engineering from Liverpool University. 'I just saw South Africa as a land of opportunity. I didn't understand anything about the local political scene. I didn't understand what apartheid was all about.' Mr Turnbull is now a successful commodities broker. Richard Beadle, who is on the committee of the BCA, is chairman of the UK-SA Friendship Club. He also came out to South Africa in the Seventies, 'when things in Britain were hard if you were young'. He runs a travel business and has become, as he freely owned, 'a rand multimillionaire'. He said he considered himself a liberal. 'I was greatly disturbed by a lot of what the National Party did and, without joining the ANC or anything, I used every opportunity I could in conversation with people to present the other side.'

Had he ever thought of leaving? 'I've blown hot and cold, which is true of most immigrants. The unrest was the main worry, but today people are more concerned about the economy. Before the elections, though, a lot of people made contingency plans to leave.'

The British Consulate in Johannesburg would attest to that, having been overrun by supplicants seeking UK passports during March and April. British policy in South Africa has been driven to a large degree by the imperative to avoid the nightmare prospect of hundreds of thousands of returning immigrants suddenly turning up on British shores. In addition to the 450,000 who hold UK passports in South Africa, British officials suspect that at least another 200,000 may qualify because their parents were British subjects.

The nightmare has receded since the elections, but if Mr Major was exceptionally bullish last week about South Africa's chances of prosperity and enduring stability, it was in part because he wished to reassure his local compatriots.

The message got through. 'With the Prime Minister's visit, the mood has changed. People sense that he wouldn't be coming if he didn't feel safe, so people are more relaxed,' said Mr Turnbull.

He is hoping to reinforce the idea that it would be in the best interests of his fellow Britons to remain in South Africa by inviting Jeffrey Archer out on a visit. He believes that such is the popularity of Lord Archer that he would be able to fill 1,000 rand (pounds 180) a plate fund-raising dinners for BCA in plush Johannesburg hotels.

Mr Turnbull said he had spoken last week to Lord Archer, who was very keen to fly out. Well he may be, since BCA would pay for his trip, affording him an opportunity to promote his books for free and connect with an expatriate Tory constituency which, despite the emergence two weeks ago of The Two Ronnies on South African television, continues to inhabit a sunny little world, innocent of unpleasantness.

(Photograph omitted)