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?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy