Mrs Windsor in for tepid reception

Royal visit/ hectic whirl starts today

THE QUEEN flies in today to begin the first state visit to South Africa by a British monarch in 48 years - six hectic days that will give the republic a royal welcome back to the Commonwealth.

Few South Africans know or think much about the Queen nowadays, but local radio has repeatedly brought to them a devotional vow made in a strangely confident voice by Princess Elizabeth around the time of her 21st- birthday ball in Cape Town.

"I declare before you all that my whole life shall be devoted to your service, and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong," she said at the time.

The British Empire is long gone, and when the young princess last visited with her parents and sister Margaret in 1947, South Africa was about to slip into the long moral darkness of apartheid. Now, 10 months after its first all-races election, the Queen apparently wishes to give her blessing to this model of hope for a non-racist future.

Tomorrow in Cape Town she addresses parliament, hurriedly repainted for her arrival. Walkabouts, moderate receptions and visits to worthy people and projects are the keynotes of her tour as it continues to Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Soweto and Durban. There will be no attempt to match the huge set-piece events of the royal tour in 1947.

Later President Nelson Mandela will host a banquet to introduce his African National Congress leadership and some of South Africa's two dozen tribal kings. The Queen will have to parry a request from King Zanisizwe Sandile to return the severed head of the Xhosa king Hintsa, which he claims was carried off to London by British troops in 1834.

The Queen's contacts are likely to be even more delicate with the leaders of the biggest tribal group, the 8 million Zulus, although probably not because Zulu protocol says her guards should kill barehanded and feast upon any bulls donated to her by King Goodwill Zwelethini.

King Goodwill is far more concerned about a struggle for power with his uncle, controversial Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whom the Queen meets tomorrow. A Durban court heard last week that Chief Buthelezi's immediate entourage was implicated in ordering hit squad murders.

The general public may be reticent, but South Africa's English-language media have pounced on the royal story. Debates were invented about whether a knighthood for Mr Mandela would give his estranged wife Winnie the right to call herself a lady. Even if the answer was technically no, commentators seemed to fear that the forceful Mrs Mandela would demand and take the title anyway.

No opinion polls have been published about attitudes to the monarchy. Experts said there were many reasons South African enthusiasm appeared only lukewarm, starting with the fact that only 5 per cent of the 40 million population are of English- speaking origin.

"Yes, it's part of history, yes, it's pomp and ceremony. But nowadays it's over there, rather than over here," said Peter Scott Wilson of the Markinor market research company. "And as for black South Africans, it's definitely a question of `Who she?' "

Interest will probably pick up with television coverage of the visit, But a Xhosa woman in Johannesburg summed up current black reaction: "The Queen of England? I've never even heard anybody talk about her."

The Afrikaners, who slightly outnumber the English in the white community, are split.A few follow the line of Jan Smuts, a once-revered Afrikaner statesman who took South Africa into the Second World War on the side of the Allies before losing the 1948 elections to the Afrikaner racist National Party.

In Smuts's old farmhouse near Irene, in the veld south of Pretoria, museum curator Penny Grimbeek has even set up a small shrine of mementoes from the Royal Family's odyssey in 1947.

A few right-wing Afrikaners, however, seem determined to keep alive bad memories from the 1899-1902 Boer War. One group called on the Queen to visit sites where British troops had burned farms and interned Afrikaner families, causing the deaths of 22,000 women and children. One leader said "Mrs Elizabeth Windsor" was not welcome as the great-granddaughter of "merciless" Queen Victoria.

But according to Marius Loubser of the Bureau for Market Research, most Afrikaners were simply indifferent.

"We've buried the past. We've buried the hatchet with our (black) President. We're even proud of him," said Thys van Staden, an Afrikaner taking his children to visit the cemetery of the Irene internment camp, where old tombstones inscribed by hand on pieces of slate remember the 940 children and scores of women who died there.

He recalled waving flags for the Royal Family in a mass rally of 25,000 children in Pretoria in 1947, and his wife said the old Queen had shaken her mother's hand at a Cape railway siding.

"It's nice to be part of the world again. We'll get on with the future now," Mr van Staden said. "And I suppose that if we get a chance, we'll take our own children to see the Queen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas