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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 10/98: Truth and Reconciliation  
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Truth and Reconciliation Friday, 30 October, 1998, 09:17 GMT
P W Botha: The 'Great Crocodile'
In August this year the former South African president Pieter Willem Botha was found guilty of contempt against the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

After a lengthy trial, the 82-year-old was fined 10,000 rand and given a 12-month suspended jail term.

Mr Botha was charged after he failed to attend a TRC hearing in Cape Town on December 19, 1997. The commission wanted to question him about allegations that he headed a state-sponsored strategy to silence anti-apartheid activists while in office.

PW Botha was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984, and President from 1984 to 1989. In that time he always refused to make any concessions to the black population or to hostile international opinion.

From its inception, Mr Botha rallied against the TRC, rejecting it as a "circus" and a "witching" against anti-apartheid leaders and State Security Force (SSC) members.

'Nothing to apologise for'

Last year he declared: "I have nothing to apologise for. I will never ask for amnesty (from the TRC). Not now, not tomorrow, not after tomorrow."

That belligerence was a hallmark of his rule. Ordinary South Africans knew him as "the Great Crocodile". He once famously remarked: "When I am angry, I can be a Thunderbird."

Mr Botha was born into an Afrikaner farmer family in the Orange Free State. He first worked for the National Party at the age of 19 as a party organiser.

As Defence Minister from 1966 to 1979, he worked to increase the military budget by 20 times, thereby countering the effects of an international arms embargo against South Africa.

On becoming Prime Minister he said: " We must adapt or die" and, from 1981, embarked on a number of constitutional reforms. These were widely attributed to his desire to maintain the power of the white population while giving limited concessions to other races.

Bloody crackdowns

Constitutional reforms were combined with bloody crackdowns on violent opposition, and increased military repression by the security forces.

Human rights groups have estimated that up to 30,000 people were held without trial during states of emergency imposed by Mr Botha at various times between 1986 and 1989.

He introduced reforms, limited in scope, in 1985 and 1986, relaxing some apartheid laws such as prohibitions on mixed marriages and the demand that black people carry special passes.

In June 1988 legislation was passed providing for the establishment of a multi-racial consultative body - which would include black members.

But it was left to F.W. de Klerk, who succeeded Mr Botha when he resigned due to ill-health in January 1989, to set in motion more fundamental reform which was to change the face of South Africa.

See also:

28 Oct 98 | World
03 Jun 98 | Africa
28 Oct 98 | World
28 Oct 98 | Despatches
28 Oct 98 | Africa
Links to more Truth and Reconciliation stories are at the foot of the page.


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