R F ‘PIK’ Botha

Ge­nial-seem­ing for­eign min­is­ter of South Africa who de­fended apartheid but sur­vived its col­lapse

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

ROELOF FRED­ERIK “PIK” BOTHA, who has died aged 86, was the long-serv­ing last for­eign min­is­ter of apartheid-era South Africa from 1977 un­til 1994; he was re­garded both at home and abroad as a mod­er­at­ing in­flu­ence on suc­ces­sive Na­tional Party pres­i­dents.

Ur­bane, jovial and well-liked out­side the ranks of South Africa’s ex­treme Right, Botha hit the head­lines in 1986 when he earned a stern tick­ing-off from Pres­i­dent PW Botha (no re­la­tion) af­ter telling western diplo­mats that South Africa might one day have a black pres­i­dent. Re­buked by the pres­i­dent in par­lia­ment, he only saved him­self by writ­ing a hu­mil­i­at­ing apol­ogy.

Yet PIK Botha was a much more con­tra­dic­tory fig­ure than his rep­u­ta­tion as a lib­eral might sug­gest. He had spent most of his ca­reer de­fend­ing apartheid, and even af­ter it be­came clear that change was in­evitable, he con­tin­ued to blow hot and cold and was not above the odd act of de­vi­ous­ness de­signed to se­cure the most favourable out­come for the white mi­nor­ity.

In 1992 it emerged that in 1989 and 1990 – as South Africa’s Pres­i­dent FW de Klerk took the momentous de­ci­sion to lift the ban on the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) and re­lease its jailed leader, Nel­son Man­dela, with a view to ne­go­ti­at­ing a con­sti­tu­tional set­tle­ment – Botha had sanc­tioned se­cret fund­ing for Chief Man­go­suthu Buthelezi’s Zulu-based Inkatha Free­dom Party, the ANC’S main ri­val.

The rev­e­la­tion was an em­bar­rass­ment to de Klerk, with whom Man­dela had agreed to ne­go­ti­ate as a “man of in­tegrity”. He de­nied he had known of the pay­ments and de­moted two of the min­is­ters in­volved. Botha de­nied that the gov­ern­ment had given Inkatha se­cret sub­si­dies as “to­tally and ut­terly un­true”, only to be forced to ad­mit a month later that the pay­ments had been made.

Yet Botha was too im­por­tant an ally to lose, and de­spite hav­ing been caught out telling a lie, he was re­tained as for­eign min­is­ter. In later life he claimed that Man­dela had been like an “el­der brother”, and there were re­ports that he might even join the ANC.

Roelof Fred­erik Botha was born to an Afrikaner fam­ily in Rusten­burg on April 27 1932. His father was a maths teacher and head­mas­ter. Botha ac­quired his nick­name in child­hood when he was given a black suit which made him look like a penguin – “pikkewyn” in Afrikaans.

At the age of four he sur­vived a bout of menin­gi­tis, over­com­ing par­tial paral­y­sis. He went on to study Law at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, though he might have cho­sen sev­eral other paths. A star pupil at high school, he had shown prom­ise as an ac­tor, wrote short sto­ries and po­etry and be­came chair­man of the de­bat­ing so­ci­ety and cap­tain of rugby.

Botha joined the South African Diplo­matic Ser­vice for a bet in 1953 at a time when there were few Afrikan­ers in the for­eign min­istry. Three years later he was posted as third sec­re­tary in Stock­holm. Af­ter a post­ing to West Ger­many, he served for three years in the mid-1960s on his coun­try’s le­gal team at the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice in The Hague, in the mat­ter of Ethiopia and Liberia v South Africa, which re­lated to the con­tin­ued pres­ence of South Africa as the Manda­tory power in South West Africa (now Namibia).

From 1966 to 1974 Botha served on the del­e­ga­tion rep­re­sent­ing South Africa at the UN and in Oc­to­ber 1974 was ap­pointed South Africa’s am­bas­sador to the or­gan­i­sa­tion. A month af­ter he pre­sented his cre­den­tials, how­ever, South Africa was sus­pended from mem­ber­ship of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, though it re­mained a UN mem­ber.

In 1970 Botha had been elected to the House of As­sem­bly as Na­tional Party MP for Won­der­boom in the Transvaal. His maiden speech, in which he urged the gov­ern­ment to sign the Univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, earned him the dis­trust of many on the Right of his party.

In 1975, in ad­di­tion to his UN post, Botha was ap­pointed South Africa’s am­bas­sador to the United States. In 1977, he re-en­tered Par­lia­ment as MP for West­dene, and was ap­pointed min­is­ter for for­eign af­fairs – with the un­en­vi­able job of de­fend­ing apartheid on the world stage as South Africa be­came more and more of an in­ter­na­tional pariah.

Two years later the prime min­is­ter, John Vorster, was forced to re­sign amid a po­lit­i­cal scan­dal in­volv­ing se­cret plans to di­vert funds from the coun­try’s de­fence bud­get to fight a pro­pa­ganda war for the Na­tional Party gov­ern­ment. Botha stood for the lead­er­ship but went out on the first bal­lot with just 22 votes be­fore PW Botha was el­e­vated to the pres­i­dency. The con­test was tes­ti­mony to Botha’s sur­vival skills – he re­tained his job at the for­eign min­istry – but also his in­abil­ity to muster sup­port among his own col­leagues.

He was re­garded as a skilled be­hind-thescenes ne­go­tia­tor, and his achieve­ments un­der PW’S regime in­cluded se­cur­ing a peace deal in 1988 that led to the with­drawal of the Cubans and the ANC from An­gola and ended South Africa’s mil­i­tary in­volve­ment there. He also be­came in­volved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions that led in 1990 to Namibia’s in­de­pen­dence.

Botha was known to have pressed col­leagues for Man­dela’s im­me­di­ate re­lease and the scrap­ping of apartheid’s Group Ar­eas Act, yet some­times the strains of push­ing col­leagues to­wards mod­er­a­tion while de­fend­ing the sys­tem to the out­side world led him to lose his cool. In 1986, in a bel­liger­ent speech to Na­tional Party faith­ful, he an­grily de­fied the im­po­si­tion of sanc­tions by the coun­try’s trad­ing part­ners, declar­ing that “ei­ther we bow down to the world’s de­mands or refuse to take any more of its med­dling”. One-man-one-vote, he said, would be “tan­ta­mount to sui­cide”.

In 1988, in­fu­ri­ated by hos­tile ques­tion­ing, he strode out of a for­eign press din­ner at which he was the guest speaker, telling his au­di­ence: “If you don’t like it here, go to any of the 50 coun­tries north of the Lim­popo.” He was, he said, “sick and tired of a lot of for­eign rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­scend­ing on my coun­try and point­ing up all the dirty work in­stead of all the prom­ise, beauty and good will of this coun­try’’.

Some­times nick­named “the house­wife’s dar­ling’’, Botha re­mained a pop­u­lar, charis­matic fig­ure among whites. A sur­vey in 1986 showed that 54 per cent of white vot­ers wanted him as the next pres­i­dent, against three per cent for the even­tual vic­tor, FW de Klerk. Yet when the party lead­er­ship was con­tested in 1989, Botha ran a poor third.

The vote had been trig­gered by

PW Botha’s res­ig­na­tion as leader of the Na­tional Party in Fe­bru­ary 1989 af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke. In March the NP elected de Klerk as pres­i­dent but PW re­fused to re­sign. It was PIK Botha’s cham­pi­oning of de Klerk which fi­nally forced PW out of of­fice.

De Klerk’s el­e­va­tion gave a new mo­men­tum to the process of re­form and in 1990, in a speech to a Na­tional Party congress in Dur­ban, Botha de­clared, to pro­longed ap­plause: “We have a new fu­ture in a new South Africa. There is no way that we can turn back. There are a lot of re­wards if we carry on … We might not smell like roses, but we are not the pole­cat of the world any more.”

Af­ter Man­dela be­came South Africa’s first black pres­i­dent in 1994, Botha served for two years as min­is­ter of min­er­als and en­ergy. In 1997 he be­came the first for­mer Na­tional Party min­is­ter to give ev­i­dence to the coun­try’s Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion, when he asked “God’s for­give­ness” for fail­ing to do more to pre­vent atroc­i­ties, which he blamed on the se­cu­rity ser­vices.

He was said to be de­lighted when Cyril Ramaphosa re­placed Ja­cob Zuma as South Africa’s leader ear­lier this year.

In 1953 Botha mar­ried He­lena Bos­man, with whom he had two sons and two daugh­ters. She died in 1996 and in 1998 he mar­ried Ina Jou­bert, who sur­vives him with his chil­dren.

R F “Pik” Botha, born April 27 1932, died Oc­to­ber 12 2018

PIK Botha, ‘the house­wife’s dar­ling’, in 1994 with Man­go­suthu Buthelezi, left, and Nel­son Man­dela

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