Queen Begins S. Africa State Visit
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) _ Queen Elizabeth II was confronted today with one of South Africa’s ugly realities _ the high incidence of rape _ when a young essay contest winner declared that if she were queen for a day, she would force child rapists to face the death sentence.
The queen and former President Nelson Mandela met the essay winner, Ntsako Mlambo, and eight other finalists at a Pretoria hotel on the first day of the monarch’s state visit.
The queen did not discuss Mlambo’s essay during her brief encounter with the girl. British officials said the queen had read it, but they couldn’t say what her reaction was.
Mlambo’s essay contained flights of fancy expected from any 16-year-old: She would hire a plane if she were queen for a day, she would ensure that children could see any movie they wanted for free.
But the anguish and fear many girls and women face in South Africa _ which has the world’s highest rape rate and where 15,000 girls are violated annually _ surfaced when she wrote that if she were queen, ``everybody who raped anybody on that day would get into trouble.″
Men who raped ``anybody under the age of 21 would have to face a death sentence,″ Mlambo wrote, adding: ``This means that almost every child will enjoy the day because they would be safer from being raped.″
Many South Africans, dismayed at the country’s soaring crime rate, have called for reinstatement of the death penalty. President Thabo Mbeki has ruled it out.
Sponsored by the British Council and an educational trust, the annual essay contest began four years ago on the queen’s first visit to South Africa since the end of white minority rule.
Earlier in the day, Elizabeth greeted Mbeki, South Africa’s second freely elected president, in a welcoming ceremony at the capital buildings in Pretoria.
A presidential guard stood at attention as the monarch received a 21-gun salute. Members of the African National Congress-led Cabinet lined up to meet her.
The queen and Mbeki exchanged few words before posing for pictures and inspecting the honor guard.
Elizabeth arrived Tuesday night from Ghana and was to go to the city of Durban to open a meeting Friday of the Commonwealth, which is holding its biennial summit in the Indian Ocean port.
Notably absent from today’s ceremony at the Union Buildings government complex _ where the masters of the apartheid state once ruled _ was a major show of Afrikaner protesters demanding a royal apology for the sufferings of their Boer forefathers in the Boer War.
Conservative Afrikaner leaders had called on their followers to protest the ceremony. The Boers, descendants of the region’s mainly Dutch settlers, fought the British from 1899-1902. A small minority periodically call on the British to apologize for the deaths of thousands of Boers in concentration camps.
``We demand an apology for the atrocities committed against the Boer nation, women and children,″ said Leon Strydom, one of three Afrikaner demonstrators.
South Africa is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, which was won by the British. British officials have said the queen is likely to express sorrow at the suffering of all people during the war.
After a lunch with Mbeki, Elizabeth was due to meet with former President Nelson Mandela today and attend a state banquet in the evening. On Thursday, she was to visit the crime-ridden and impoverished township of Alexandra in Johannesburg.
The queen’s program includes laying a wreath at a war memorial, while her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, will visit one of the Boer War sites. She leaves South Africa on Monday, stopping briefly in the Mozambican capital of Maputo on her way home.