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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 November 2006, 15:31 GMT
Apartheid-era leader remembered
South African President Thabo Mbeki (l), his wife Zanele Mbeki(c) and former South African President FW de Klerk (r). Roussow Botha, a son of PW Botha (1st row)
Mr Mbeki's attendance is being seen as a gesture of reconciliation
The funeral of PW Botha, the last South African leader to staunchly defend the apartheid system, has taken place with President Thabo Mbeki in attendance.

Some South Africans have viewed Mr Mbeki's attendance as a betrayal of those who suffered during apartheid.

Inside the church in the Western Cape, Mr Botha's coffin was adorned with white roses and lilies, and the service was broadcast live on tv and radio.

Hundreds of mourners were at the Dutch Reformed Church in the town of George.

There was a prominent photograph of the former president on display at the church. A private burial is following the service.

Bury the past or the past will bury you
Bahjat Batarseh

During the sermon, mourners were told that South Africans should not dwell on the past.

"Bury the past or the past will bury you," Jordanian Christian missionary Dr Bahjat Batarseh said.

Having bitterness by remembering the past all the time is "like a worm that eats the root of a tree and then the tree collapses," he said.

Tribute

At the service, Mr Mbeki and his wife, Zanele, sat alongside the last white president of South Africa, FW De Klerk who oversaw apartheid's dismantling.

PW BOTHA
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

Also at the funeral was the former head of the armed forces during the apartheid era, Gen Constand Viljoen and a few members of the former National Party government.

Director-General of the Presidency, the Reverend Frank Chikane, whom Botha's apartheid regime once tried to poison, was also among the mourners.

Flags have been flown at half-mast from government buildings since he died at the age of 90 last Tuesday.

He was at the same level as Hitler was, and should be treated as a pariah by peace-loving people
Cosatu

President Mbeki said on Tuesday that a balanced appraisal was needed of Mr Botha's life "to promote national reconciliation".

He said it was under Mr Botha that contacts first began with the African National Congress (ANC)

The first post-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela is not attending, but has paid tribute to Mr Botha - describing him as "a symbol of apartheid" but recalling that he had taken steps towards an eventual peacefully negotiated settlement.

Heated exchanges

The BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says that even though Mr Botha had become politically irrelevant during his years in retirement, his death has sparked new debate in a nation that wants so much to put the past behind it.

PW Botha (archive photo)
PW Botha was known as the Big Crocodile for his tough stance

Newspapers in South Africa had few kind words to say about Mr Botha calling him apartheid's last great champion.

And there were heated exchanges on South African radio talk shows about whether Mr Mbeki should attend the funeral.

Hundreds of ANC activists went missing or were killed whilst Mr Botha ruled South Africa between 1978 and 1989.

Ahead of the funeral, The Congress of South African Trade Unions in the Western Cape likened Mr Botha to former German dictator Adolf Hitler.

"He was the devil personified at the same level that Hitler was, and should be treated as a pariah by peace-loving people," Cosatu said in a statement.

Mr Mbeki's eldest son, Kwanda, is believed to have been killed by agents of the apartheid government under Mr Botha.

After the end of apartheid, Mr Botha refused to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated apartheid crimes and offered amnesty to those who confessed and showed remorse.

This confirmed many people's view that he represented white South Africans who had failed to adapt to change and clung to old privileges and prejudices.




SEE ALSO
Press sheds few tears for Botha
02 Nov 06 |  Africa
PW Botha: Reaction in quotes
01 Nov 06 |  Africa
Apartheid-era SA president dies
01 Nov 06 |  Africa
Obituary: PW Botha
31 Oct 06 |  Africa
How will PW Botha be remembered?
01 Nov 06 |  Have Your Say



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