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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 20:40 GMT
Obituary: PW Botha

P W Botha
PW Botha: Cautious conservative

As prime minister and president of South Africa, PW Botha had a mild reformist streak, but made it clear that he was not prepared to hand over the country to the black majority.

The changes he made were designed to help ensure the continuation of white control in the face of mounting domestic and international pressures.

An Afrikaner, Pieter Willem Botha was born into a deeply religious and highly political family of Orange Free State farmers.

As a National Party MP for the Cape constituency of George from 1948, he helped implement the government's apartheid policies.

1916: Born 12 January
1948: Elected MP
1966: Defence minister
1978: PM of South Africa
1984: Executive president
1989: Resigns the presidency
2006: Dies, aged 90

Botha was defence minister from 1966 to 1979, and it was during these years that he gained his reputation as a hawk.

He deployed forces to destabilise the country's Marxist neighbours, and worked to increase the military budget by 20 times, thereby undermining the international arms embargo against South Africa.

As prime minister and later the country's first executive president, Mr Botha told his people: "We must adapt or die."

State of emergency

Some apartheid laws were relaxed, but this reformist instinct was generally attributed to a desire to preserve the pre-eminence of whites by giving limited concessions to other races.

He later proposed that parliaments be set up for the coloured (mixed race) and Indian populations, though not for the blacks.

Nelson Mandela
Botha refused to release Nelson Mandela
It caused a split in the National Party and provoked an increasingly aggressive response from the black population.

As a result, thousands of people were held without trial during states of emergency imposed by Botha at various times between 1986 and 1989.

Botha announced in February 1986 that the concept of apartheid was outdated, and promised more sharing of political power.

But then, in May, he sanctioned raids on alleged African National Congress bases in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana - a move widely seen as a slap in the face for the West.

Suspended sentence

Mr Mandela was taken out of jail for a meeting with Botha. But the president rejected worldwide appeals for him to be released, because he would not renounce violence.

Perhaps concerned by the growth in support among the white electorate for extreme right-wing parties, Botha also imposed a ban on celebrations to mark Mr Mandela's 70th birthday.

F W De Klerk
FW de Klerk transformed South Africa
In 1989, after a bitter power struggle, Botha resigned the presidency and, in a final act of spite, refused to appoint his successor, FW De Klerk - the white leader who did see out apartheid, as acting president.

In 1998 he was fined and given a suspended five-year jail term for ignoring a summons to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

It had wanted to question him about his role as head of the State Security Council, which was found to have sanctioned the killing of anti-apartheid activists.

Botha was in office during the period when the policy of separating whites and blacks by government decree became increasingly unsustainable.

He was a cautious conservative by nature. At the end of his tenure he was following policies that had estranged many whites and yet not brought the reforms desired by many blacks.


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