The country’s longest serving diplomat, Roelof (Pik) Botha, 86, who died yesterday, has left a legacy revered by friend and foe – first as an apartheid-era foreign minister, and later becoming a member of Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet.
It was unthinkable to most South Africans as far back as the ’80s that a high-ranking minister like Botha would break ranks with the reigning ideology in the National Party (NP) government, and push for the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of liberation movements like the ANC and the PAC.
This paved the way for the beginning of the constitutional talks that got to be known as Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) in 1991.
Botha is remembered as the first Afrikaner leader to declare his willingness to serve under a black president who – after the 1994 first democratic elections – became Mandela.
It is this liberal political leaning that gave him credence in liberation circles, despite his defence of the NP-led government.
Among many who have paid tribute to Botha yesterday, were President Cyril Ramaphosa, former president FW de Klerk, businessman Saki Macozoma and United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader General Bantu Holomisa.
Underscoring the view that Botha was a liberal within a conservative NP, De Klerk in paying homage to Botha said: “Intense discussions took place within the NP leadership during the ’80s. Pik Botha was a prominent and consistent advocate of reform, constitutional negotiations and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
“He supported president PW Botha’s reform measures and subsequently was one of the strongest proponents of the constitutional transformation process that we initiated on February 2, 1990.”
De Klerk, who expressed sadness at the death of “a valued colleague and friend”, described Botha as “one of the leading personalities in South African politics from 1970 until his retirement from active politics in 1996”.
“He served with great distinction as South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs from 1977 until 1994 – one of the world’s longest-serving foreign ministers.”
De Klerk said Botha had played a key role as a member of South Africa’s legal team in the International Court of Justice’s positive judgment in 1966 in the case on South West Africa (later Namibia) and, subsequently, in South Africa’s protracted negotiations with the Western Contact Group and the United Nations on the independence of Namibia.
“In 1988, he concluded the tripartite agreement with Angola and Cuba on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and the implementation of the UN independence process in Namibia.
“The agreement was of pivotal importance to the evolution of the political situation in South Africa.”
Safika Holdings chair Macozoma described Botha as “an interesting nationalist politician”.
“In my view, his exposure to the international world made him see and understand that a non-racial society could work in South Africa. Had he simply conveyed that truth to the National Party leaders and electorate, he would have simply been cast out like Beyers Naude,” Macozoma said.
“In the end, the Verligtes [liberals in the NP] were overpowered by the Securocrats.”
Macozoma said Botha’s attempts to make apartheid acceptable to the world was “probably his Achilles heel”.
“It had to involve significant lying to the world and also cost South Africa the information scandal, even though it did not happen under his department.
“The tricameral parliamentary system, [and] the elaborate propaganda system set up to defend apartheid formed part of the idea that the system could be made benign and sold to the world.”
South Africa, said Macozoma, should remember Botha as the prodigal son. He sinned against the nation in supporting apartheid for so long. He realised his sin, recanted and repented.
“Thus, in the end he did the right thing. We must thank God for his life and for the role he played in helping us cross the Rubicon into democracy.”
Holomisa said Botha should be remembered for putting pressure on PW Botha to change.
“At a personal level, he was an easy person who created a lot of friends, like former Nigerian president General Olusegun Obasanjo,” he said.
Ramaphosa said Botha would be remembered for his support for South Africa’s transition into democracy and for “his service in the first democratic administration” as minister of mineral and energy affairs.