Tributes to Botha led by men he called terrorists
A WARM tribute paid by Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned throughout the time P W Botha served in successive apartheid governments, yesterday underlined the enigmatic reputation of the splenetic former white president of South Africa who died, aged 90, on Tuesday night.
Mr Botha, known as the Great Crocodile because of his explosive temper, died at his home in the small Cape Province town of Wilderness in the arms of his second wife, Barbara. Mrs Botha, who married him in 1998, said her husband's death had been completely unexpected.
"He was just so well," she said. "He just said to me he's a little bit weary. We went off to the bedroom to have an early night. He took my arm and he just sank slowly to the ground, and drew his last breath."
Mr Botha, as head of state and head of government, had doggedly refused to release Mr Mandela from life imprisonment for plotting the overthrow in the late 1950s and early 1960s of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party administration of which Mr Botha was a long-serving member.
"While to many Mr Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country," Mr Mandela, 88, said yesterday. "His death should remind us how South Africans from all persuasions ultimately came together to save our country from self-destruction."
The black-dominated African National Congress was banned and exiled throughout the time Botha was prime minister and then president of his country from 1978 to 1989. Yesterday, the ANC government, which came to power in 1994, ordered all flags flown at half-mast and offered a state funeral. But his widow said the family, at Botha's wish, had opted for a private ceremony next Wednesday.
Thabo Mbeki, the president, sent his senior aide, the Rev Frank Chikane, to offer condolences at the Botha family home. The gesture was especially poignant, given that Mr Chikane, a former head of the South African Council of Churches, narrowly escaped death in 1989 when his clothes were laced with pesticides by the apartheid regime.
The kindness demonstrated by Mr Mandela and by Mr Mbeki, who said yesterday that Botha "realised South Africans had no alternative but to reach out to one another", was fascinating, given Mr Botha's wider reputation as a curmudgeonly right-wing tyrant who never apologised for the killings and torture of black nationalists and other anti-apartheid activists under his rule.
Mr Mandela's and Mr Mbeki's comments underlined the subtleties of the secret negotiations, still yet to be fully revealed, that marked the years-long transition from apartheid to democracy. Mr Botha, while cracking down ruthlessly on ANC supporters at home, was turning a blind eye to negotiations by top Afrikaners with the ANC abroad, while his ministers began talks with the imprisoned Mr Mandela.
During the government of Margaret Thatcher - who publicly denounced Mr Mandela, Mr Mbeki and the ANC as terrorists - Mr Mbeki held highly secret talks, with the blessing of Mrs Thatcher and British intelligence, from 1987 to 1990 at Mells Castle, near Bath, with some 20 top members of the Afrikaner ruling elite. They discussed conditions for Mr Mandela's release and constitutional talks between the ANC and the ruling white National Party. But the real work began over South African brandy and cigars around the fireside in the evenings until the early hours. Technically, Mr Mbeki's "terrorist" ANC and the "ostracised" Afrikaners were at war. But in the English West Country, they were planning the peace.
Back in South Africa, Mr Botha had moved Mr Mandela into a luxury prison officer's bungalow, complete with swimming pool, chef and other servants. There, the man who told his trial he was prepared to die for his beliefs received such Botha colleagues as Kobie Coetsee, the justice minister.
That resulted in Mr Mandela being taken for a meeting with Mr Botha at his official residence in Cape Town. The prison commander had to knot Mr Mandela's tie because he had been in prison so long he had forgotten how to tie it properly. When Mr Botha greeted him, Mr Mandela admitted: "He completely disarmed me. He was unfailingly courteous, deferential and friendly."
Though no concrete agreement came from the meeting, Mr Mandela said it was the day Mr Botha crossed the Rubicon and from then on there was no turning back on the dismantling of apartheid, first under Mr Botha's successor, F W de Klerk, then under Mr Mandela, as South Africa's first black president.
Mr Botha withdrew from political life after he was ousted. In December 1997, he stubbornly resisted appearing before a panel investigating apartheid-era crimes. He risked criminal penalties by repeatedly defying subpoenas from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to testify about the State Security Council that he headed. It was believed to have sanctioned the killing and torture of anti-apartheid activists, and the panel wanted to know what Mr Botha's involvement was.
Not everyone had rosy opinions of Mr Botha yesterday. Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, a fellow Afrikaner, became leader in 1984 of the opposition Progressive Federal Party in the whites-only parliament, at the same time as Mr Botha became state president.
"He would say, 'Those who are against me are in the pay of communists in Moscow'," Mr Van Zyl Slabbert said. "There wasn't a lot of space for dialogue. Generally speaking, he was not a pleasant fellow, but he could crack a few jokes over a braii [barbecue] and beers."
THE RISE AND FALL OF APARTHEID
APARTHEID, the Afrikaans word for separateness, was born as a new political concept by the white National Party in the run-up to the 1948 South African elections.
• It won popular support from white voters who wanted to maintain their dominance over the black majority.
• In 1948, HF Verwoerd, the architect of "Grand Apartheid", was given a cabinet post.
• The government adopted key laws in 1950 which underpinned apartheid rule - the four main race groups had to live in separate areas and sex between whites and other races was outlawed.
• Sixty-nine unarmed blacks were killed by police during a protest at Sharpeville in the Transvaal in 1960. That year the government declared the ANC and the Pan African Congress illegal. In 1961 the ANC launched a guerrilla campaign.
• PW Botha cautiously moved to dismantle some apartheid laws, and announced the repeal of the ban on sex and marriage between whites and other races in 1984.
• FW De Klerk, who replaced Botha as president in 1989, repudiated apartheid. In 1991, Apartheid laws were repealed.
• In May 1994 Nelson Mandela, freed from prison in 1990, became the nation's first black president.
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