Michelle Obama heard stories of South Africa's racist past Tuesday from Nelson Mandela, the country's first black president,who was imprisoned for 27 years in his struggle against brutal apartheid rule.
Now 92 and largely retired from public life, Mandela sent word he wanted to meet with the first lady at his home while she was at his foundation viewing some of his personal papers.
The first lady was joined by her daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10; her mother, Marian Robinson; and the first lady's niece and nephew, Leslie Robinson and Avery Robinson. Mandela was accompanied by his wife, Graca Machel, a former first lady of both South Africa and Mozambique.
The Obama family spent about 20 minutes with Mandela, who wore one of his trademark shirts, richly patterned and buttoned at the neck. A photo distributed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation showed a healthy-looking Mandela sitting on a couch next to Mrs. Obama. He held a pen and appeared ready to sign an advance copy of his new book, "Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorized Quotations Book."
Mrs. Obama came to Africa partly to promote her own causes and partly because President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is unlikely to make another trip to his ancestral homeland before his term ends in a year and a half.
Rose Nkosi, 61, who sells fruit and snacks from a street stall in Johannesburg, said she "would love so much, so much" to see Obama himself. She said that, in South Africa and the United States, "no one thought a black person can rule. But it's happened."
The first lady began her first full day in South Africa by calling on Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, one of three wives of President Jacob Zuma, at his official residence in Pretoria. She also met there with Mandela's wife.
After meeting with Mandela, Mrs. Obama and her family visited a daycare center in Zandspruit, a Johannesburg shantytown where people live in tin homes. A group of 3- to 6-year-olds welcomed their visitors with song. Mrs. Obama and her daughters then took turns reading one of the girls' favorite books, Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."
They closed the day with a private tour of the Apartheid Museum. The museum opened in 2001 to tell South Africa's 20th century story, including the rise and fall of apartheid, the system of racial separation, in which Mandela, Zuma and many others played a role in ending.