ACCRA, GHANA -- For 61 white South Africans, most of them dissident Afrikaners, it was a journey from pariah status to acceptability.
The group of academics and business and professional people who held talks last week with the African National Congress (ANC) in Dakar, Senegal, were accorded the status of visiting dignitaries as they journeyed to two more West African countries, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
Group members said the tour, sharply criticized by the South African government and extreme right-wing whites at home, demonstrated Africa's readiness to accept even that sector of South Africa most closely identified with the apartheid policy of white domination, provided they are prepared to renounce it.
In what for most was their first venture into black Africa, the Afrikaners were first astonished, then delighted at the warmth of their reception in countries that have barred entry to white South Africans and sought to isolate South Africa internationally.
As the 10-day tour progressed, their reserve and skepticism gave way to embraces for their black hosts and the ANC leaders who accompanied them on the tour as they left Ghana on Friday.
It was a personal triumph for the former leader of South Africa's liberal Progressive Federal Party, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, who resigned from the white-controlled Parliament last year to found an institute for promoting interracial contact.
Slabbert handpicked the group to participate in the sessions, the largest ever between white South Africans and exiled leaders of the outlawed ANC, which opinion polls show has the strongest support of any black movement in the country.
Slabbert chose mainly influential Afrikaners who had reached various stages of doubts about the morality and viability of the apartheid policy, but were uncertain what sort of future they would have under black majority rule.
As the tour drew to its close, most said it had been a profound personal experience that had destroyed many deeply ingrained preconceptions.
As one leading member of the group put it, "It has been an overwhelming experience and I think it is going to take a long time for us to absorb it all. For many, our whole conceptual framework has been shattered."
Moving on from Senegal, one of Africa's few multiparty democracies, the Afrikaners' reception in the revolutionary republic of Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta, was tumultuous. Thousands of cheering people lined the streets as the visitors were driven through the mud-brick capital of Ouagadougu in a motorcade.
The South Africans attended a State House banquet where President Thomas Sankara held a two-hour discussion with them, sitting under the stars in his palace garden. They also were driven into the countryside to plant trees to help halt the encroaching desert and to commemorate what Sankara called a historic visit.
In Ghana, the welcome was less spectacular but equally warm and, for the Afrikaners, even more meaningful. This is the spiritual birthplace of African nationalism, whose founding leader, Kwame Nkrumah -- now being resurrected as a hero after 20 years of obloquy -- launched a pan-African campaign against apartheid and was the key figure in getting South Africa expelled from the Commonwealth in 1961.
The group was taken to the W.E.B. DuBois memorial, where they heard speeches praising the founder of the American black civil rights movement and Nkrumah, who was described as "the relay runner who took the torch of black liberation from DuBois and ran the next stretch."
On Thursday evening, Afrikaners and members of the ANC, friends by now after a week of traveling together, mingled in the tropical night with members of the Ghanaian government in the conference complex where 22 years ago the Organization of African Unity discussed the launching of a war of liberation against apartheid South Africa.
The head of Ghana's military regime, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings, did not attend the gathering, but met privately for two hours with Slabbert and the leader of the ANC delegation, Thabo Mbeki.
A complementary relationship developed during the tour between Slabbert and Mbeki, who is the ANC's information director and a rising star in its leadership.
In public forums and press conferences the two repeatedly found themselves on the same side of the argument, defending a shared commitment to nonracism against criticism from radical black nationalists.
This was strikingly illustrated at a joint press conference when the group arrived in Accra. After questioning Slabbert about his motives for meeting with the ANC, implying it might be a white attempt to blunt the black organization's revolutionary commitment, a young Ghanaian journalist turned sharply to Mbeki and demanded: "Do you really trust these whites?"
"Yes," came the instant reply. "There is nothing in a person's color that defines his politics."
Until then, many of the whites had remained skeptical of the ANC's repeated declarations at the conference of commitment to the principle of multiracialism and their assurances that they harbored no dark thoughts of racial revenge.
In private conversations, many indicated that they thought this was a matter of political expediency. As one skeptic remarked, "It pays them to say things like that, but I wonder how far it really goes?"
However, the skepticism seemed to dissolve as the whites heard the ANC delegates defend the same position again and again before critical black audiences.
At least some began to express an understanding that far from being expedient, the commitment to multiracialism was a political liability held out of conviction in the face of considerable extremist pressure both inside and outside South Africa.