Pik Botha, global face of SA’s apartheid state dies

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

APARTHEID-ERA for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Pik Botha has died in his Pre­to­ria home at the age of 86, his fam­ily con­firmed yes­ter­day morn­ing.

His son, Piet Botha, who is in the band Jack Ham­mer, con­firmed to News24 that his father died peace­fully in his sleep in the early hours of the morn­ing. “His wife Ina was with him un­til the end,” he said. “He was very sick dur­ing the last three weeks and his body just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Piet Botha added that he would al­ways re­mem­ber his father for hav­ing the abil­ity to im­me­di­ately sort out is­sues if there was any trou­ble, and that he will miss him dearly.

Botha was ad­mit­ted to a Pre­to­ria hos­pi­tal in late Septem­ber.

Roelof “Pik” Botha was the world’s longest­serv­ing for­eign min­is­ter. He was born in April 1932, and ac­cord­ing to SA His­tory On­line the law grad­u­ate started in the for­eign af­fairs de­part­ment in 1953.

In April 1977, he was ap­pointed Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs and rep­re­sented the con­stituency of West­dene in Jo­han­nes­burg. Botha was ap­pointed min­is­ter of min­eral and en­ergy af­fairs in 1994 and re­signed from that post in May 1996.

Mean­while, Pik Botha, who also served in the first demo­cratic Cabinet, was yes­ter­day re­mem­bered by former col­leagues as a far-sighted politi­cian who fore­saw the end of apartheid long be­fore the rest of the Na­tional Party govern­ment did.

But po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries say Botha was never quite trusted by the ANC and the demo­cratic order be­cause while he was open to di­a­logue, he was also will­ing to de­fend apartheid to the hilt.

Leon Wes­sels, who was deputy chair­per­son of the Con­stituent Assem­bly be­tween 1994 and 1996 and later be­came a hu­man rights com­mis­sioner, says Botha played a ma­jor role in South Africa’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy and that he was priv­i­leged to serve as deputy min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs un­der Botha be­tween 1989 and 1991.

“He had enor­mous insight and knowl­edge about world af­fairs and diplo­macy. He was a hard worker who de­manded much from his staff.”

Botha, much more than any other politi­cian of the apartheid era, saw that the sys­tem was not work­able, says Wes­sels.

“In his maiden speech in Par­lia­ment he drew the ire of the Na­tional Party when he said South Africa could not ig­nore the Univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights and that the world was chang­ing. Af­ter that, the party whip­pery was very re­luc­tant to give him time at the podium; he was con­sid­ered a risk.”

“But he also had a big fight with PW Botha when he said he ex­pected South Africa to have a black pres­i­dent one day and that he’d be pre­pared to serve un­der such a leader. And he also ac­cepted that Nel­son Man­dela had to be re­leased.”

Wes­sels be­lieves Botha should be re­mem­bered as a pi­o­neer and thought leader who be­lieved in demo­cratic val­ues.

“He was a great be­liever in con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity but wasn’t naïve about the chal­lenges South Africa faced.”

Mac Ma­haraj, one of the ANC’s lead ne­go­tia­tors in the early 1990s and also a mem­ber of Man­dela’s Cabinet, says Botha had “a colour­ful ca­reer”.

“He was a man of many parts; he was very com­plex. On the one hand, you had the Pik Botha who would de­fend and mar­ket apartheid across the world. And on the other hand, you had the Pik Botha who was able to re­spond to the pres­sure of a chang­ing world and was will­ing to talk,” Ma­haraj said yes­ter­day.

It would be wrong to say Botha was ei­ther “verlig” or “verkramp”, the two Afrikaans terms used to de­scribe the pro­gres­sive and con­ser­va­tive camps in the Na­tional Party in the 1990s, says Ma­haraj. “To say he was ei­ther would be to box Botha in. He had the abil­ity to change his views on mat­ters as time went along. For ex­am­ple, he de­fended South Africa’s con­tin­ued rule over Namibia in front of the World Court in The Hague, but at the same time was able to con­front PW Botha, who did not trust him.”

Ma­haraj says Botha was prone to hy­per­bole in an ef­fort to be liked.

“Even though we never be­came friends and the so­cial di­vide which apartheid forced us into was never crossed, we got on well with him. My con­do­lences to his friends and fam­ily and I hope they find a way to keep him in their thoughts.”

Dawie de Vil­liers, a former min­is­ter who served in both the last apartheid and first demo­cratic cab­i­nets, says Botha’s death is “tragic” and agreed with Wes­sels’ sen­ti­ments.

“He was far-sighted and had the abil­ity to make quick and ef­fec­tive de­ci­sions. He did a lot for South Africa on the in­ter­na­tional stage dur­ing the fi­nal years of apartheid.”

Ben Turok, a se­nior ANC MP in the 1990s, says Botha had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing “two-faced”.

Among ANC MPs it was known that Botha was a “strong­man” but that he could also be per­son­able and friendly.

“We never knew which Botha would show up. I don’t think he was ever fully trusted by us.”

Wes­sels says dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions Botha had the abil­ity to build bridges where oth­ers could not.

“This is il­lus­trated by one in­ci­dent at a cock­tail func­tion af­ter the big con­fronta­tion be­tween Man­dela and FW de Klerk at Codesa. At one stage it was only my­self and Botha who were left at the func­tion, only us two who were part of the De Klerk Cabinet. We were stand­ing to one side talk­ing and Man­dela walked over and told me: ‘Would you mind if the old men had a word in pri­vate?’ Well of course I didn’t and I left them alone to talk.

“Their heads were close to­gether as they spoke about what had hap­pened, and when they were done Man­dela walked across to me and said: ‘Don’t worry Leon, Pik and I will sort this out.’ And they did.” — AFP

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