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."

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