The Royal Family arrived in Cape Town on 17 February 1947 and left for home on 24 April. They had travelled 7 000 km, visited more than 400 cities, towns and stop-overs, and spoken to 25 000 people.
The Royal Family (King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth and his two daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret) undertook a leisurely three month journey through their Southern African dominions (South Africa itself, Southern Rhodesia, Swaziland, Basutoland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate).
Field Marshall Jan Smuts met them aboard the HMS Vanguard battleship and the King descended the gangplank to a 21-gun salute on Signal Hill.
The Vanguard was the pride of the Royal Navy, it was the largest, fastest, newest battleship of its day, built during World War II but only commissioned after the war. The Vanguard served between 1946 and 1960 and cost over 11.5 million pounds. On this 1947 visit it carried a staff complement (officers and crew) of 1 975 men.
They were cheered by millions of people of all races as they travelled through the country in the White Train, with short trips in a Daimler.
The occasions were many for cultural spectaculars whether Volkspele dancing or massed Zulu impis in warrior stance. Thousands flocked to the railway stations along the route for the brief whistle-stop halts; these were the speedy moments for local dignitaries and guards of honour to be presented to royalty or to stand to attention for inspection.
The royal family in South Africa were given the most royal red carpet welcomes. They saw the best of the country as well as some rather curious places – game reserves, wine farms, the Port Elizabeth Snake Park, the East London graving dock, clipping ostrich feathers in Oudshoorn, an official banquet in Pretoria, the award of an Honorary degree to Queen Elizabeth at UCT , the vistas of Drakensberg at Mont aux Sources.
Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, celebrated her 21st birthday (21st April, 1926) in South Africa. For her it was a momentous year; a year of the great South African adventure, coming of age, then her engagement followed by marriage to Prince Philip. During the tour she had her first solo public engagement, the opening of the Princess Elizabeth graving dock in East London. Her sister Princess Margaret played second fiddle, though she was often seen as the prettier, more fun loving daughter.
The Royal visit had come at the time Afrikaners wanted a Boer Republic and black and Indian politicians were emerging. DF Malan, Nationalist leader, had warned of South Africa being swamped by blacks.
Why did the Royal Family come to South Africa?
It could be that General Jan Smuts, who as Prime Minister extended the invitation to the royal family, seemingly wanted to consolidate ties between South Africa and Britain. An additional reason could have been possibly to strengthen or maybe invent a South African national identity.
What did the Royal visit achieve?
In retrospect, one can argue that it was a significant factor in costing Smuts and the United Party the 1948 election. But at the time it was seen as an opportunity to express good will and gratitude for the South African contribution to the Allied effort in the Second World War.
South Africa was a self-governing dominion but the King was the constitutional head of South Africa and one task was to open the 1947 session of the Union Parliament shortly after his arrival in Cape Town.