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For All Nails #101: The African Queen

by Jonathan Edelstein

Cape Town, Cape Kingdom FN1
17 July 1974

Alexandra, Queen of the Cape, Duchess of Nieuw Rotterdam, FN2 Protector of West Griqualand and Too Damned Many Other Titles shouldn't have been a happy monarch, but she was.

Getting used to the monarchy business was the least of Alexandra's troubles. She'd been in the hot seat for just over three years, and she'd come to it completely unprepared; being elected to the throne had been beyond her wildest imaginings. Of course, she was related to her predecessor within the fourth degree of consanguinity and thus eligible to be chosen Queen, but only just. Her grandmother on her father's side had been royalty. She was just a doctor, a member of the Cape Town municipal parliament, and an occasional columnist in the Volkskrant.

But she had been elected anyway. Parliament had been deadlocked between two equally unacceptable candidates, and had broken the impasse by pulling a name -- hers -- out of a hat. She hadn't even been paying attention to the proceedings -- if anything, she had even less patience for political wrangling then than she did now -- so the delegation that visited her at her medical office had come as a complete surprise. Fortunately, she'd managed to avoid making a complete fool of herself, although not by much.

That should have been the end of her problems, like the fairy-story prince appearing with the glass slipper. It hadn't been long, though, before she learned that "happily ever after" can be much more complicated than it sounds.

To begin with, the royal family didn't care for her. That, probably, was the easiest to understand -- the sons of the former king and dozens of close relatives had been passed over for someone who was royal mainly by courtesy. Alexandra supposed she couldn't blame them for resenting her, or for using their considerable social and political clout to undermine her.

High society didn't care for her either. Many non-Africans, accustomed to seeing Africa through the lens of racial conflict, assumed that this was because of her Coloured ancestry. While it was true that she was one thirty-second black on her mother's side, this didn't matter at all; her Coloured ancestors had come from a fine Afrikaner family. FN3 The problem was the other side of her mother's family; they were white, but they were descended from dirt-poor peasant farmers who had fled Germany and Russia during the Bloody Eighties. Her mother's mother, dead these two years, was a second-generation Cape citizen and had risen to the middle class, but she'd retained enough old-country ways that she might as well have been a Boer. FN4 Even worse, she'd been a practicing Jew; race didn't matter much in the Cape Kingdom, but religion certainly did, and Judaism was one of the less suitable ways to reject Dutch Reformed doctrine. That was enough to make Alexandra quite unacceptable to the Cape Town hostesses.

Parliament didn't care for her. When they elected her, they thought they were getting an amiable nonentity; someone who would preside over charity teas and be too dazzled by the glitter of the court to do much else. What they got was a conscientious woman who insisted on doing her job, whether or not she got in Parliament's way. They didn't like the way she had taken to actually using her constitutional authority, or her public addresses about controversial issues like immigration and the Labour Bill.

Well, as far as Alexandra was concerned, that was just too damned bad. Why shouldn't she use the powers that were hers, even if they had gone unused for generations? And why shouldn't she speak? Didn't she have the same right of free speech that the least of her citizens had? Wasn't she, as a sovereign elected by a representative body, entitled to speak for the people in a way that a hereditary monarch was not?

The people. At least she had them. Alexandra was popular; all the poll numbers said so, and so did the encouragement that was shouted whenever she walked the streets of the city. The public, or most of them, saw her as an honest woman standing up to the politicians, and her natural grace made an impression on them if on nobody else. Parliament was starting to learn that it opposed her at its peril. In the past year, she'd felt that she was making headway, starting to moderate some of the kingdom's residual xenophobia and Dutch Calvinist complacency.

And there were other compensations as well...

"Ma'am?" said her personal secretary; she had forbidden greater formality, and her staff refused greater familiarity. "Ma'am, the delegation from Botswana is here." FN5

"Send them in." The Botswana negotiations had been one of Alexandra's pet projects for several months. The two countries had always enjoyed friendly relations, and Alexandra saw a customs union and mutual cooperation agreement as the first step in a southern African community. Negotiating a treaty was well within the scope of her authority, although Parliament held the final say about whether it would be ratified; Alexandra had a number of influential members on board, and was fairly sure she could get the necessary majority if negotiations were successful.

Her secretary ushered the delegation in, headed by the Botswana prime minister, Seretse Nkate. Botswana also had a king, but unlike Alexandra, he was a mere figurehead; Nkate unquestionably called the shots. He was a keen-eyed man who had led his country for more than a decade, and had been an invaluable advisor to her during the first difficult months of her reign.

They made small talk for a while; the coronation in New Granada, that country's expansionist plans, the deteriorating situations in Europe and Victoria. As always, Nkate's Cape Dutch FN6 was excellent; he was also fluent in the bastardized language spoken in New Friesland. Alexandra couldn't reciprocate nearly as well in English, let alone Tswana, but all that would improve in time.

Business went quickly and smoothly; by the end of the session, Alexandra estimated that they were two meetings away from a draft treaty. There was still some bargaining to be done over the details, especially the full faith and credit clauses and the binational trade court, but everyone seemed to be in agreement on the basic outline. Weary with the day's bargaining, the Botswana representatives adjourned to their hotel, with Nkate making excuses and promising to meet them later. The atmosphere in the room changed subtly.

"You're looking good, Alexandra," he said when their staffs had left them alone. "It's been a while." He closed the distance between them, embraced her, and kissed her firmly. She returned the embrace with an intensity that promised more.

Happiness was where one found it, after all.

Forward to FAN #102: You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Forward to 22 July 1974: Wheelchair General.

Forward to Queen Alexandra: Sweet Sorrow.

Return to For All Nails.