The Last Hurrah South Africa and the Royal Tour of 1947 Graham Viney book

Graham Viney will appear at Stellenbosch Woordfees 2019, highlighting his book The Last Hurrah South Africa and the Royal Tour of 1947.

Author Riaan Malan, whose cover quote describes the work as “the literary surprise of the decade”, is an invited discussant and he’ll talk about the book. Woordfees 2019 runs from 1 to 9 March.

The Last Hurrah explores the politics – local, imperial and international, surrounding the famous royal tour of South Africa in 1947, as well as the notable personalities involved.

“Read and be amazed that South Africa could ever put on a show like this. And what went wrong the following year,” says Graham. “I’m inundated with mails and social media by South Africans who all say the same: ‘we never knew this’. From a publishing point of view it’s the lingering love of the royal family and the images that clinch it.”

The book’s relevance is why South Africa went from being one of the most popular countries in the world at the time of the visit to being the international polecat within a decade. “It uses the great set pieces of the royal tour, (which were never researched as it was swept under the carpet by the Nats) on which to hang the politics of the day – local, Commonwealth and international. Not a generally known fact here: South Africa is a member of the Commonwealth; one of Mandela’s first acts was to reapply for membership,” he adds.

The Royal Family wave to crowds from the White Train - seen in The Last Hurrah by Graham Viney
The Royal Family wave to crowds from the White Train – in The Last Hurrah by Graham Viney

More from Graham Viney on The Last Hurrah 

“The English Royal Family has a lasting appeal. This was never more in evidence here, than when they visited South Africa in 1947.  For those who had gone to war in 1939, the visit was gratifyingly seen as the sovereign’s thank you for the South African war effort against the Nazis. Indeed many of the civic receptions had a strong element of displayed Empire unity and a delayed Victory Parade about them.”

“There must too have been political agenda, though this was strenuously denied. Although Smuts had won an impressive majority in the khaki election of 1943, he now faced, on one hand, a rising Afrikaner Ascendancy, with an emotive aim of re-establishing the Boer republic out of which its supporters felt they had been cheated in 1910,” he comments.

“On the other hand, he faced rising nationalist discontent amongst Indians and Blacks, no longer content with little say-so in the government of the land. He needed support and, though it came with a royal warning to pledge non-white political advancement, he got it in spades, for two, gala-packed months.”

The Indaba at Umtata, The Last Hurrah by Graham Viney
The Indaba at Umtata

Extraordinary appeal

All politically discontented groups called on their adherents to boycott the visit. “These failed. As Smuts knew, the Royal Family in the flesh had an extraordinary appeal. This was still a respectable age and what historians now dub The Respectable Tendency, that is family men and their wives who aspired to the middle class values the sovereigns represented, was widely represented amongst the Afrikaans, Black, Jewish and Coloured communities.”

“They disregarded the calls  and turned out in their tens of thousands to cheer, as a bemused Yank reporter from Life magazine felt constrained to put it, ‘as if the parade of Empire was just beginning’ and not, in fact,  just beginning to fade. As such, the visit, with its triumphal arches, open Daimler tourers, ivory and gold royal train, gloved waves and township dwellers and curtseying ladies, came closest to providing a unique unifying and joyful moment in a very divided country’s long and disputatious history.”

“The Last Hurrah describes a defining moment in time of two South Africas ago. Astonishing now to think that this country could ever have put on such terrific show!”

What: The Last Hurrah South Africa and the Royal Tour of 1947 Graham Viney
Published by: Jonathan Ball. Bookshops across South Africa
Stellenbosch Woordfees: 1 to 9 March 2019
WS