President P.W. Botha was greeted by a black choir singing his praises Friday as he toured a shantytown his government tried several times to destroy.
Botha, making one of his few visits to a black township in his 10 years as head of state, was cheered loudly when he arrived at the long-troubled Crossroads area outside Cape Town."Thank you, we accept you as our leader," a choir sang in the Xhosa language.
After years of trying to eliminate the squatters' town, Botha's government is now building new houses in Crossroads.
However, the population has changed. Most of the current 120,000 residents are believed supporters of the vigilantes who in 1986 burned down huge areas of Crossroads where anti-apartheid activists held sway. Scores of people were killed and 70,000 squatters burned out of their homes during that factional fighting.
Botha stopped at a new job-training center where the appointed mayor, Johnson Ngxobongwana, welcomed him "in the name of all Crossroads residents."
Ngxobongwana headed the so-called vigilantes.
Many of his displaced opponents have moved where the government wanted them - a massive township called Khayelitsha, farther from Cape Town.
Botha, accompanied by his wife and daughter, concluded his visit with a half-hour drive past Crossroads shacks and an area where new homes are being built. Several thousand residents looked on, many cheering, and youths ran after his car when it left a child-care center.
At one point, Botha inspected a house under construction and spread mortar with a trowel. Later, he shook the hand of a boy who ran alongside his car.
Jan van Eck, an anti-apartheid member of Parliament, said of Crossroads, "The black community that rejects an Archbishop (Desmond) Tutu and accepts into its midst the oppressor, Mr. P.W. Botha, is far removed from the rest of the oppressed people of South Africa."
He was referring to graffiti on a wall near the main entrance to Crossroads that says: "No entry for Tutu" - the black Anglican leader who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid, under which the black majority has no voice in national affairs.
Crossroads was declared a township last year - the first time its residents were not classified as squatters. Millions of blacks live in squatter camps elsewhere in South Africa, and the government has introduced legislation making it easier for authorities to evict them.
Botha said the employment center was an example of his government's attempts to develop black areas.
The center is used to train unemployed people in carpentry, bricklaying, sewing and other skills.
The shantytown's troubled history centers around the white-dominated government's former policy that people of mixed-race had preference over blacks for all jobs in the Cape Town region and that blacks lived there only as temporary workers.