The presidential helicopter landed in the small town of Orania, South Africa. It was August, 1995. The President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, had come for tea.
Tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the 94-year old widow of South Africa’s former Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd. It was Mrs. Verwoerd’s husband who, as noted here in this story from the Christian Science Monitor, was known as the “architect of apartheid” — the disgraceful policy of racial segregation that Mandela was famously imprisoned for fighting.
The reason for the overwhelming tidal wave of emotion and celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy in South Africa is, among other things, precisely for moments like that. Taking time as president to pay a symbolic social call on the widow of apartheid’s white architect — a policy that imprisoned Mandela for 27 years. Mandela’s view, much quoted these past few days, was that part of his job as South Africa’s first black president was to lead his bitterly and racially divided country to a national reconciliation.