The real face of Pik Botha

An apos­tle of the apartheid state who was pre­pared to serve a black pres­i­dent

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - SHAN­NON EBRAHIM Ebrahim is Group For­eign Ed­i­tor

PIK Botha was, above all else, the smil­ing face of the apartheid regime, from the time he was ap­pointed for­eign min­is­ter in 1977, the year in which Steve Biko was beaten to death.

Botha was the tonic Prime Min­is­ter BJ Vorster gave to the world to sell apartheid with his good hu­mour and ir­re­sistible charm. And charm the West he did, suc­cess­fully de­lay­ing the im­po­si­tion of sanc­tions against the apartheid regime un­til 1986.

For­mer apartheid se­cu­rity branch op­er­a­tives en­joyed re­veal­ing the regime’s dirty se­crets in the post-apartheid era. PW Botha and FW de Klerk’s su­per spy, the no­to­ri­ous Craig Wil­liamson, claimed that Botha did all the arms deals with the French, a claim he had stren­u­ously de­nied.

Wil­liamson out­lined the de­tails of the govern­ment’s Op­er­a­tion Con­dor, which was al­legedly a ma­jor sanc­tions-bust­ing arms deal. Ac­cord­ing to Wil­liamson, the govern­ment was happy with the suc­cess of Op­er­a­tion Con­dor, and Botha had or­gan­ised that Jean-Yves Ol­livier, the most pow­er­ful king­pin in the po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness net­works of Françafrique, be dec­o­rated with a medal in 1987.

But ru­mours have al­ways swirled about Botha’s prox­im­ity to the arms in­dus­try and his his­tory of sanc­tions-bust­ing.

In Eve­lyn Groenink’s riv­et­ing book

In­cor­rupt­ible, which was pub­lished ear­lier this year, she quotes from an in­ves­tiga­tive piece about the mafia in Africa which claimed, “In the 1970s and 1980s Pik Botha was at the epi­cen­tre of all min­eral, mil­i­tary and trade-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion… When Pik was for­eign min­is­ter, the SADF was a ver­i­ta­ble di­a­mond min­ing com­pany, con­duct­ing covert mil­i­tary and min­eral deals.”

Botha was out­raged by such ac­cu­sa­tions when the book was pub­lished.

Ques­tions have also been raised as to the ex­tent to which Botha was in­volved in the desta­bil­i­sa­tion of the front line states, and his po­ten­tial role in, or knowl­edge of, cross-bor­der raids in which mem­bers of the lib­er­a­tion move­ments and civil­ians were killed.

Se­cu­rity Po­lice Gen­eral Jo­han Coet­zee tes­ti­fied at the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion that he had once sent men to courier a re­quest to Botha for his ap­proval to at­tack an ANC set­tle­ment in Botswana.

Ac­cord­ing to Coet­zee, Botha had signed the death war­rant, and the sub­se­quent Gaborone raid had killed 12, in­clud­ing a 6-year-old boy. It was an open se­cret that Botha’s con­fi­dant had for many years been Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence chief Neels van Ton­der.

In 2000, Botha had par­tic­i­pated in a panel dis­cus­sion on Robben Is­land be­tween for­mer pris­on­ers and for­mer apartheid de­ci­sion-mak­ers and op­er­a­tives such as Dirk Coet­zee.

Af­ter the di­a­logue, and while stand­ing at the Cape Town docks, Botha had come face to face with the for­mer head of the ANC’s mil­i­tary po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee in Swazi­land from the mid1980s, which proved to be a rather awk­ward mo­ment.

While Botha had claimed that he had noth­ing to do with the com­rade’s ab­duc­tion from Swazi­land in 1986, and that it had been the work of the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, he did, how­ever, boast that he knew the com­rade’s un­der­ground nom de guerre, and was keenly aware of the mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Branch who tor­tured him fol­low­ing his ab­duc­tion from Swazi­land.

Ac­cord­ing to for­mer Se­cu­rity Branch po­lice­man Paul Eras­mus, who had worked at John Vorster Square from the late 1970s, Botha was a key part of the Strat­com ma­chin­ery in the early 1990s.

“As the min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs Pik Botha was one of the four arms of Strat­com; he was on the State Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and was well versed and knew ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on, and chose to deny it,” Eras­mus said.

But those who worked with Botha had a very dif­fer­ent view of him, es­pe­cially diplo­mats within the For­eign Af­fairs Depart­ment who knew him over many years.

Botha was highly re­garded for hav­ing helped ne­go­ti­ate the tri­par­tite agree­ment be­tween South Africa, An­gola and Cuba that granted Namibia in­de­pen­dence, and saw the with­drawal of for­eign forces in An­gola’s civil war. This was de­spite the fact that he had been a key mem­ber of the South African team that went to the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice at the Hague in ear­lier years to de­fend the coun­try’s rule over South West Africa.

Vet­eran diplo­mat Gert Grob­ler, who worked with him over many years on mat­ters re­lated to Europe and Africa, in par­tic­u­lar An­gola and Mozam­bique, had this to say about his for­mer col­league: “Al­though Pik Botha has re­ceived much credit for his role in the Namibia/An­gola is­sue, he, to­gether with the late Pro­fes­sor Mar­i­nus Wiech­ers, played a crit­i­cal role in bring­ing an end to con­flict in Mozam­bique in Oc­to­ber 1992.”

“Pik Botha was a con­sum­mate diplo­mat and for­mi­da­ble ne­go­tia­tor, re­spected by both friend and foe. He was a pa­triot who dearly loved South Africa, an in­cred­i­bly hard worker, to­tally com­mit­ted to serv­ing his coun­try and his peo­ple,” Grob­ler has said in the wake of Botha’s pass­ing.

Ch­ester Crocker, the for­mer Amer­i­can As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for African Af­fairs, had said of Pik Botha: “In a way his per­son­al­ity al­ways struck us as larger than life.” When Botha had been posted to Wash­ing­ton he had devel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with Crocker, who had coined the term “con­struc­tive en­gage­ment”.

Botha loved to tell Amer­i­cans they had no right to moralise about race.

He had once said, “Sen­a­tor, some of us strongly be­lieve that Amer­i­cans are the last peo­ple that can go around the world preach­ing moral­ity. What we are do­ing to the blacks in Africa to­day is what you have al­ready done and con­tinue to do to the Amer­i­can In­dian.”

But in a more en­light­ened mo­ment in 1986, Botha had told the press in Cape Town that he did be­lieve there would be a black pres­i­dent in South Africa in the fu­ture, and he was pre­pared to serve un­der him.

Pres­i­dent PW Botha had pub­licly rep­ri­manded him for say­ing this in Par­lia­ment.

Rusty Evans, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs dur­ing the tran­si­tion, had at the time been Pik Botha’s right hand man.

Ac­cord­ing to a news re­port fol­low­ing Evans’s death last year, it was said that al­though Evans was close to Botha, he had some­times ques­tioned his judge­ment.

Evans had re­called how Botha had met US Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger to dis­cuss the apartheid govern­ment’s planned in­va­sion of An­gola in 1975. Ac­cord­ing to Evans, Kissinger had led Botha to be­lieve that if South African in­vaded An­gola the Amer­i­cans would not op­pose it. The feel­ing was that Botha had been a lit­tle gung-ho in in­ter­pret­ing the Amer­i­can po­si­tion.

When I met Botha a few months ago at (rather iron­i­cally) the Rus­sian na­tional day re­cep­tion in Pre­to­ria, he had en­thu­si­as­ti­cally re­layed to me his en­coun­ters with for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher at her Che­quers res­i­dence.

He saw Thatcher as an ally with whom he had devel­oped a close per­sonal friend­ship.

“My for­mer wife and I used to spend the oc­ca­sional week­end with Mag­gie and her hus­band at her of­fi­cial res­i­dence. Typ­i­cally, Mag­gie and I would end up talk­ing for hours in the one liv­ing room, while my wife and her hus­band would talk in the other liv­ing room,” he said.

I had sub­se­quently teased Botha that I knew all about the lav­ish par­ties he would host when he lived at the his­toric New­lands House in Cape Town, when he was for­eign min­is­ter.

Vet­eran em­ploy­ees at the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works had told me of the par­ties of 500 peo­ple that Botha would host un­der a mar­quee in the gar­dens at New­lands House, all at tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense.

There is no ques­tion that he was a grand so­cialite and diplo­mat ex­traor­di­naire, but un­de­ni­ably al­ways an apos­tle of the apartheid state.

| AP | ANA

IFP leader Prince Man­go­suthu Buthelezi, Pres­i­dent FW de Klerk, and ANC pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela chat at a news con­fer­ence on April 19, 1994, in Pre­to­ria, when Buthelezi and his party agreed to end its boy­cott of South Africa’s first all-race elec­tions. Stand­ing be­hind, from the left, are For­eign Min­is­ter Pik Botha, Roelf Meyer, the chief govern­ment ne­go­tia­tor, and the ANC’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Cyril Ramaphosa.

| African News Agency (ANA Ar­chives)

A FILE im­age of apartheid-era For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Pik Botha dur­ing a visit to Cairo in the 1970s.

ROELOF Fred­erik “Pik” Botha 1932-2018

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