JOHANNESBURG — SOUTH AFRICA's first black president, Nelson Mandela, ventures today into a whites-only town for tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.
Mr. Mandela's visit to Betsie Verwoerd in the town of Orania in the northern Cape province was part of his commitment to reconciliation, presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana said Monday. The visit follows a lunch last month hosted by Mandela for the wives and widows of politicians on both sides of the apartheid struggle.
Orania, a former government waterworks installation 94 miles south of the country's diamond-mining city of Kimberley, was bought by white rightists in 1991. Blacks are discouraged from visiting the town, which is registered as a private company, and rarely enter Orania except to make deliveries.
This will change today when Mandela visits Mrs. Verwoerd. Her husband masterminded the apartheid policy that divided South Africa on racial lines. He was assassinated by a messenger in the whites-only parliament in 1966.
Orania town manager Renus Steyn said Mandela's visit had been hotly debated by the 460 residents. "We are being shaken [into] asking whether we want a Volkstaat [white homeland] or only a white town," he said.