The former South African Foreign Minister from the apartheid era, Pik Botha, died this week. For many years he was the international face of the apartheid regime, speaking regularly at the United Nations and on radio and television.
He was a hardline supporter of that evil regime, complicit in its atrocities, defending the indefensible. Apartheid was a crime against humanity.
After the end of apartheid, his National Party joined the ANC and he became a minister, serving under Nelson Mandela. That symbolised the generosity of Mandela, but it stuck in the throat of many.
During my teenage years, during the all-white 1977 general election, he spoke at an election rally in Green Point near the city centre of Cape Town. It was in the heartland of the white opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party, in fact in the constituency of the PFP Leader, Colin Eglin. I lived in Eglin’s constituency. I went with some PFP supporters to the rally with the intention of disrupting the speech.
Pik Botha was a great orator, and he easily saw us off. I was slightly in awe of his skills and the way he countered the heckling from my fellow liberals, mainly students from the University of Cape Town. Things began to turn ugly, and the twenty or thirty of us decided that a tactical retreat was in order. In fact we ran for our lives as a large group of young Afrikaners gave chase. We got away but I have rarely felt so terrified.
In spite of his later decision to hitch his wagon to that of Mandela, I still regard him as one of the most effective advocates of apartheid, possibly the most effective, and he had a major part to play in apartheid’s survival.
I never bought his latter day protestations that he had been opposed to apartheid and had been fighting it from within. I think that his namesake, PW Botha, who had been President of the apartheid government, was more honest, defending his role in the apartheid regime to his death.