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Pieter Willem Botha, DMS (12 January 1916 – 31 October 2006), commonly known as "P. W." and Die Groot Krokodil (Afrikaans for "The Big Crocodile"), was the leader of South Africa from 1978 to 1989, serving as the last Prime Minister from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive State President from 1984 to 1989. First elected to Parliament in 1948, Botha was an outspoken opponent of black majority rule and international communism. However, his administration did make concessions towards political reform, whereas internal unrest saw widespread human rights abuses at the hands of the government. Botha resigned the leadership of the ruling National Party in February 1989 after suffering a stroke and six months later was coerced to leave the presidency as well.
In F. W. de Klerk's 1992 referendum Botha campaigned for a No vote and denounced de Klerk's administration as irresponsible by opening the door to black majority rule. In early 1998, when Botha refused to testify at the Mandela government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he was supported by the right-wing Conservative Party, which had earlier contested his rule as the official opposition. By his refusal, he was fined and given a suspended jail sentence for crimes against human rights. Shortly before his death in late 2006, he renewed his opposition towards egalitarian democracy in favour of a confederate system based upon the principles of "separate development".Botha was not related to contemporary National Party politician Roelof Frederik "Pik" Botha, his Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In some ways, Botha's application of the apartheid system was less repressive than that of his predecessors. He legalised interracial marriage and miscegenation, both completely banned since the late 1940s. The constitutional prohibition on multiracial political parties was lifted. He also relaxed the Group Areas Act, which barred non-whites from living in certain areas. In 1988, a new law created "Open Group Areas" or racially mixed neighborhoods. But these neighborhoods had to receive a Government permit, and had to have the support of the local Whites immediately concerned, and had to be a high class neighborhood in the major cities typically in order to receive the permit. In 1983, the above constitutional reforms granted limited political rights to Coloureds and Indians. Botha also became the first South African government leader to authorise contacts with Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the African National Congress. However, in the face of rising discontent and violence, Botha refused to cede political power to blacks and imposed greater security measures against anti-apartheid activists. Botha also refused to negotiate with the ANC.
In 1985, Botha delivered the Rubicon speech which was a policy address in which he refused to give in to demands by the black population, including the release of Mandela. Botha's defiance of international opinion further isolated South Africa, leading to economic sanctions and a rapid decline in the value of the rand. The following year, when the U.S. introduced the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, Botha declared a nation-wide state of emergency. He is famously quoted during this time as saying, "This uprising will bring out the beast in us".
As economic and diplomatic actions against South Africa increased, civil unrest spread amongst the black population, supported by the ANC and neighbouring black-majority governments. On 16 May 1986, Botha publicly warned neighbouring states against engaging in "unsolicited interference" in South Africa's affairs.[this quote needs a citation] Four days later, Botha ordered air strikes against selected targets in Lusaka, Harare, and Gaborone, including the offices of exiled ANC activists. Botha charged that these raids were just a "first instalment" and showed that "South Africa has the capacity and the will to break the [African National Congress]."
Thousands were detained without trial during Botha's presidency, while others were tortured and killed. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found Botha responsible for gross violations of human rights. He was also found to have directly authorised 'unlawful activity which included killing.' However, Botha refused to apologise for apartheid. In a 2006 interview to mark his 90th birthday, he suggested that he had no regrets about the way he had run the country. He denied, however, that he had ever considered black South Africans to be in any way inferior to whites, but conceded that "some" whites did hold that view. He also claimed that the apartheid policies were inherited from the British colonial administration in the Eastern Cape and Natal Province, implying that he considered them something he and his government had followed by default.
State President Botha's loss of influence can be directly attributed to decisions taken at the Ronald Reagan/Mikhail Gorbachev summit of the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in Moscow (29 May – 1 June 1988) that paved the way to resolving the problem of Namibia which, according to foreign minister Pik Botha, was destabilising the region and "seriously complicating" the major issue which South Africa itself would shortly have to face. Soviet military aid would cease and Cuban troops be withdrawn from Angola as soon as South Africa complied with UN Security Council Resolution 435 by relinquishing control of Namibia and allowing UN-supervised elections there. The Tripartite Agreement, which gave effect to the Reagan/Gorbachev summit decisions, was signed at UN headquarters in New York on 22 December 1988 by representatives of Angola, Cuba and South Africa.
On 18 January 1989, Botha (then aged 73) suffered a mild stroke which prevented him from attending a meeting with Namibian political leaders on 20 January 1989. Botha's place was taken by acting president, J. Christiaan Heunis. On 2 February 1989, Botha resigned as leader of the National Party (NP) anticipating his nominee – finance minister Barend du Plessis – would succeed him. Instead, the NP's parliamentary caucus selected as leader education minister F W de Klerk, who moved quickly to consolidate his position within the party. In March 1989, the NP elected de Klerk as state president but Botha refused to resign, saying in a television address that the constitution entitled him to remain in office until March 1990 and that he was even considering running for another five-year term. Following a series of acrimonious meetings in Cape Town, and five days after UNSCR 435 was implemented in Namibia on 1 April 1989, Botha and de Klerk reached a compromise: Botha would retire after the parliamentary elections in September, allowing de Klerk to take over as president.
However, Botha resigned from the state presidency abruptly on 14 August 1989 complaining that he had not been consulted by de Klerk over his scheduled visit to see president Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia:
"The ANC is enjoying the protection of president Kaunda and is planning insurgency activities against South Africa from Lusaka," Botha declared on nationwide television. He said he had asked the cabinet what reason he should give the public for abruptly leaving office. "They replied I could use my health as an excuse. To this, I replied that I am not prepared to leave on a lie. It is evident to me that after all these years of my best efforts for the National Party and for the government of this country, as well as the security of our country, I am being ignored by ministers serving in my cabinet."
De Klerk was sworn in as acting state president on 14 August 1989 and the following month was nominated by the electoral college to succeed Botha in a five-year term as state president.Within months of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, de Klerk had announced the legalisation of anti-apartheid groups – including the African National Congress – and the release of Nelson Mandela. De Klerk's rule saw the dismantling of the apartheid system and negotiations that eventually led to South Africa's first racially inclusive democratic elections on 27 April 1994.
In a statement on the death of former state president P W Botha in 2006, de Klerk said:
"Personally, my relationship with P W Botha was often strained. I did not like his overbearing leadership style and was opposed to the intrusion of the State Security Council system into virtually every facet of government. After I became leader of the National Party in February 1989 I did my best to ensure that P W Botha would be able to end his term as president with full dignity and decorum. Unfortunately, this was not to be."