New SA catches the Queen out of step
Wednesday 22 March 1995
The Queen, it seems, finds it hard to cast aside the formality of her 68 years of on-the-job training. Charming all those she sees in her private meetings, especially the delighted President Nelson Mandela, the regal composure of her public appearances seemed out of tune with the lithe energy of the new South Africa.
"She didn't look like she was enjoying it much," said the choir conductor after his efforts failed to get the 1,400 guests at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town clapping.
Across the aisle, President Mandela beamed at the music and Archbishop Tutu's compliments from the pulpit. The upbeat ceremony on the second day of the Queen's six-day tour of South Africa was commemorating South Africa's first Human Rights Day.
The new national holiday coincides with the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, in which 69 people died demonstrating against apartheid pass laws.
The congregation was pleased that the Queen was there. "The recognition adds something," said Isaac Boloang, one of two Sharpeville survivors in the cathedral.
"When people heard the Queen was coming, they felt we were being honoured. They are happy because they expect it will bring better days."
Hundreds of mainly white South Africans and British tourists had gathered to cheer the Queen as she arrived and left with a wave and a smile. A communal gasp of horror went up as the last mini-van in her convoy seemed about to hit President Mandela as he, unlike the Queen, started across the road to pat babies' heads and chat to people. They responded with delirious hero-worship.
Mr Mandela said in an interview broadcast on South African radio that although he had always admired the Royal Family, South Africa's public response was naturally more muted than the days of their last visit in 1947. He added that some believed that British trade had helped to support and prolong 46 years of apartheid rule.
"In those days we worshipped the Royal Family far more than today. There was an aura. [Now] young people are very bitter against white South Africa. They have had a very rough time indeed," Mr Mandela said.
Perhaps that explained a marked lack of black onlookers as the Queen arrived in the crowded Site C black township near Khayelitsha, where a few hundred watched the royal party arrive and look at a British-supported weaving project that aims to ease unemployment.
"There are more people at the church on Sunday," said Margaret Gara, a seamstress. "But we only really heard she was coming this morning."
Most of the spectators came from the neighbourhood of poky shacks. Angelina Peters, a kitchen worker, stood in front of her two-bedroom shanty, built of wood, concrete, corrugated iron, bits of linoleum and carpet. Inside, it was decorated with old newspapers and a poster of a Marilyn Monroe- style blonde model.
"I think if the Queen comes, it means things will be better here," Mrs Peters mused, watching her single-parent daughter feed a tiny baby in between trying to do the washing. The hut, its freehold price 1,600 rand (£280), had no water and no electricity other than a car battery that powered a television. An outdoor latrine served for eight inhabitants.
Sophisticated radios crackled as the Queen's new white Range Rover rode into view, with one royal aide reporting up the line: "Don't worry, there are not too many flowers, but best keep clear of the fence (where people were waiting)." The Queen alighted and duly steered a course down the sandy track to an enthusiastic welcome.
"We're very interested," said a domestic servant, Christina Tyilana. "We didn't know who the Queen of England was. I was just passing on the way back from the train when I saw the crowd."
But even if the Queen did not experience the inside of a township shack - the craft centre where she planted a tree was carefully manicured - the exteriors of the shanties leave little to the imagination. And even if the impact of her visit was modest and stiff-backed, it was certainly appreciated.
"Every night we sleep restless," said Albert Glass, who makes his living reconstructing fruit pallets and boxes, noting that the township still echoed with gunfire at night.
"Overseas people should come and see how we live, how we struggle."
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