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Tuesday, April 14, 1998 Published at 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK



World: Africa

Botha trial deadline set
image: [ P.W. Botha driven from court in George on Tuesday ]
P.W. Botha driven from court in George on Tuesday


BBC correspondent George Alagiah: Truth Commission wants Botha to testify in person (3'13")
Despite almost 24 hours of negotiations, lawyers for the former South African President, P.W. Botha, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have failed to agree on a compromise that would avoid Mr Botha's prosecution for refusing to testify before the Commission.

Now Mr Botha's legal team have been given a deadline of tomorrow morning to settle their differences.

His trial for contempt had been due to start in the town of George, but the judge agreed to adjourn the sitting till Wednesday morning after the prosecutors said agreement was close.


[ image: Demonstrators have campaigned for Mr Botha's imprisonment]
Demonstrators have campaigned for Mr Botha's imprisonment
In effect the two parties have been given more time to try and reach an accommodation, otherwise the court case against Mr Botha will proceed.

Mr Botha has described the commission as a political witch-hunt, and said that he should not have to appear in person after giving the Commission written evidence.

Though the Commission chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has always sought to avoid a potentially divisive trial, many Afrikaners see Mr Botha as one of the last hopes to champion their cause.


Afrikaner journalist, Hennie Serfontein: "He's become a sort of a symbol." (0' 17")
A spokesman for the Truth Commission has said the organisation continues to leave the door open for a resolution. The spokesman said the commission was worried that the Botha case could exacerbate already strained race relations in South Africa.

But the BBC correspondent in South Africa says the commission is also under an obligation to find out the truth about South Africa's apartheid past, and this principle overrides all others.


Truth Commission seeks answers

Mr Botha ruled South Africa in the turbulent apartheid years between 1978 and 1989.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "We just want him to give us answers." (0' 17")
The Commission wants to hear evidence about Mr Botha's State Security Council which controlled the army, police and intelligence during the late 1980s and enforced apartheid by emergency rule.

These were some of the most violent years of white minority government: thousands of black people died in clashes with police and many others were detained without trial. The Commission wants to ask Mr Botha how much he knew about what went on.

The Commission also says it needs to cross-question him on various aspects of his long written submission.


Mike Siluma, editor of The Sowetan newspaper: Botha's testimony is crucial (0'13")
The BBC correspondent says other members of the apartheid-era council have given evidence and Mr Botha's refusal to do so has been the biggest thorn in the side of the Commission in its two-year history.

At a brief appearance in the George magistrate's court on February 23, Mr Botha pleaded not guilty to a charge of ignoring the subpoena and to an alternative charge of hindering the work of the commission.

He was subsequently charged with defying a legal order of the commission.

If Mr Botha now does decide to testify then the Commission says a special session could be arranged in George which could be closed to the public and the press.
 





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