There were plenty of stories, during the Queen's visit to South Africa, about black radio commentators who talked of 'Queen Elizabeth Eleven' and her husband, the 'Duke of Ellington'. The people who told you the stories were always white and they had never heard the commentator themselves; either 'a friend' had, or they'd 'heard' that it had happened, thus confirming that one, and possibly two, comfortable old South African realities were still in place. In any case such stories were rather put in the shade by the bristling denunciation of the visit by Robert van Tonder, leader of the tiny right-wing Boerestaat (Boer State) Party. Mrs Elizabeth Windsor, he said, was not welcome in the Boerestaat of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal: she was, after all, the great granddaughter of 'a cruel queen who was guilty of the holocaust of the Afrikaner people'. But the worst thing about the royal visit, van Tonder continued, was that 'the local British' (i.e. English-speaking white South Africans) were making far more fuss about it than they would with any normal head of state, thus betraying a deeply colonial mentality; a mentality, he added, which was shared by 'the new black English regime'. This was, in its way, a very reassuring sign, for it was clear that for those van Tonder represents the Boer War is still going on, just as it always has, and that even the arrival in power of Nelson Mandela has not disturbed their way of thinking. A little later, van Tonder applauded the Government's decision to remove the names of Afrikaner Nationalist premiers from all the country's airports. Johannesburg and Durban airports should never, he said, have been named after Jan Smuts and Louis Botha, both lackeys of British imperialism. All this had a distinctly comforting feel, especially since no one, months later, had actually got round to removing the offending names from the airport buildings.
LRB 22 June 1995 | PDF Download