P.W. (Pieter Willem) Botha

P.W. (Pieter Willem) Botha Social Studies Biographies Civil Rights Famous People Government World History

P.W. Botha (1916 - 2006) lived to be ninety years old.  He served senior positions in South Africa's government, during some of the country's most trying times - including the 1976 Soweto Uprising - and later served as President.

It was Botha who agreed it was time to talk with Nelson Mandela (while Mandela was still incarcerated).  He agreed his aide, Kobie Coetsee, could begin a dialogue. 

Those talks, which included a personal meeting between the president and the prisoner, ultimately led to negotiations which resulted in Mandela's freedom.

When Botha died, Mandela said:

While to many Mr Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country.

Other anti-apartheid leaders were less generous, such as Dennis Goldberg who served prison time with Mandela:

They called him the Great Crocodile I will not weep tears for this crocodile. It would be hypocritical. He promised to make a land fit for all its citizens. He put them in prison. He let loose his torturers. He used his army of occupation in the townships. Children were shot down in 1976 when he was in the cabinet as minister of defence. He attacked Angola. He occupied Namibia. He destabilised Mozambique. He bombed Zimbabwe. He bombed Zambia.

He was ruthless. He claimed to uphold human rights. He denied human rights. I will not mourn for him.

Mandela met with Botha on July 5, 1989.  His manifesto makes clear Mandela's position on many issues, including armed resistance against apartheid:

White South Africa must accept the plain fact that the ANC will not suspend, to say nothing of abandoning, the armed struggle until the government shows its willingness to surrender the monopoly of political power, and to negotiate directly and in good faith with the acknowledged black leaders. The renunciation of violence by either the government or the ANC should not be a precondition to, but the result of, negotiation.

Moreover, by ignoring credible black leaders, and imposing a succession of still-born negotiation structures, the government is not only squandering the country's precious resources but it is in fact discrediting the negotiation process itself, and prolonging civil strife. The position of the ANC on the question of violence is, therefore, very clear. A government which used violence against blacks many years before we took up arms has no right whatsoever to call on us to lay down arms.

Botha is fondly remembered by those who agreed with him and less fondly by those who did not.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy the Library of South Africa.

Passages quoted above, on Botha's passing, online courtesy BBC.

Passage quoted above from Mandela's Manifesto, presented to President P.W. Botha before their meeting on July 5, 1989.


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