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South africa anti apartheid movement blamed on commies { October 31 2006 }

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Mr. Botha used the climate of the cold war to justify his actions. He portrayed a growing Marxist threat in southern Africa and warned that Communists had infiltrated the anti-apartheid movement at home. South Africa, he said, was engaged in a “total war” and must develop a “total strategy” to fight the battle.

October 31, 2006
P.W. Botha, South Africa’s Ex-Leader, Dies at 90
Correction Appended

P.W. Botha, the hard-nosed South African leader who struggled vainly to preserve apartheid rule in a tide of domestic racial violence and global condemnation, died today at his home in South Africa. He was 90.

His death was reported by the South African Press Association in Cape Town, quoting security staff at Mr. Botha’s home on the southern Cape coast.

Mr. Botha was a combative, irascible son of a well-to-do Afrikaner farm family who dropped out of college to work for the right-wing National Party, then rose through the ranks of South Africa’s political establishment, gaining a reputation as the “Old Crocodile” for his ability to charm, outwit and crush his opponents.

In 1978, Mr. Botha became prime minister and proceeded to engineer the creation of a new constitution, one that held out the promise of a limited relaxation of the nation’s apartheid policies and paved the way for him to become president in 1984. “We must adapt or die,” Mr. Botha told his constituents after becoming Prime Minister.

But the constitution only roiled the battle over race. Though it allowed Asians and people of mixed race to be represented in a white-controlled Parliament, it continued to exclude the nation’s black majority. Some apartheid laws, like a prohibition on mixed marriages and a requirement that blacks carry special passes, were relaxed. But the measures only fueled the anger of apartheid’s opponents. One opposition leader, Frederik van Zyle, said Mr. Botha’s changes in apartheid were the political equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Holding out the promise that apartheid would eventually be dismantled, he opened negotiations with Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the African National Congress. The talks went nowhere, and Mr. Mandela remained confined.

At the same time, Mr. Botha, who first achieved national prominence as defense minister, gave the military and police unprecedented power. His government repressed dissent, encouraged rivalries among Zulus, Xhosa and other tribes and ethnic groups, and tried to destabilize neighboring countries opposed to white rule.

Mr. Botha used the climate of the cold war to justify his actions. He portrayed a growing Marxist threat in southern Africa and warned that Communists had infiltrated the anti-apartheid movement at home. South Africa, he said, was engaged in a “total war” and must develop a “total strategy” to fight the battle.

As opposition to apartheid spread, Mr. Botha’s room to maneuver shrank. “He was caught in a bind between wanting to show the international community that he was not inflexible, and not wishing to appear weak within his own country,” the journalist Allister Sparks wrote in his 1995 account of the end of apartheid, “Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Road to Change.”

In 1985, Mr. Botha was supposed to announce a giant step away from apartheid, but his proposals, which offered black Africans the vote under a legislative system that gave them no real power, disillusioned South Africa’s few remaining friends in the world.

Yet for a while Mr. Botha’s methods seemed to belie Alexis de Toqueville’s dictum that “the most perilous moment for bad government is when it seeks to mend its ways.” Mr. Botha was re-elected in 1987. Two years later, amid growing opposition within his own party to his intransigent style, the president suffered a stroke and resigned. He was succeeded by F.W. de Klerk, who legalized opposition parties, freed Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners, and made the agreements that eventually brought apartheid down.

Pieter Willem Botha was born on Jan. 12, 1916, in the Orange Free State to a Boer farm family with deep roots in southern Africa’s “White Tribe” — descendants of mainly Dutch settlers who had had been living on the continent’s southern tip for more than three centuries and who referred to themselves as Afrikaners.

Beleaguered, stubborn and insular, they saw themselves as heirs to a promised land watered with the blood of their ancestors in wars against Zulus, Ndebele and other tribes.

The Boers and the British, with their imperial aims, were also old enemies, rivals for land, diamonds and gold. Their enmity culminated in the Boer war of 1899-1901, which ended in a British victory and the eventual consolidation of the country under the empire.

Mr. Botha’s father fought the British, who burned his mother’s family farm. She and her family fled but were eventually captured and interned. Their experiences forged their son’s attitudes. Raised in the traditions of the Bible and the gun, he learned to ride and shoot and to embrace the embattled self-image of the Afrikaner.

“I grew up on a farm where I came to know black people very well,” Mr. Botha told Joseph Lelyveld of The New York Times in an interview in Mr. Lelyveld’s 1985 book “Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White.” “I played with them, I worked with them. I was taught by my father to be strict with them, but just.”

As World War II approached, tensions mounted among those who believed South Africa should side with Britain, those who advocated neutrality and those who sympathized with the Nazis. Mr. Botha sided with the latter, joining the right-wing Afrikaner nationalists in the Ossewabrandwag, or Ox Wagon Fire Guard, which was closely related to Daniel Francois Malan’s Reunited National Party. A paramilitary group within the Guard, modeled after the Nazi Brown shirts, agitated against the pro-Allied government of Jan Christian Smuts.

But Mr. Botha, who in 1935 had left the University of the Orange Free State to become an organizer for the Nationalists, did not like the Wagon Guard’s “emphasis on national socialism instead of Christian nationalism,” a South African biographer, Brian Pottinger, wrote in 1988 in “The Imperial Presidency: P.W. Botha, the First 10 Years.” “With some courage and a fine nose for the prevailing wind,” Mr. Pottinger wrote, Botha publicly condemned the Ossewabrandwag, charging it with “interference” in national politics.

By 1944, with victory looming in Europe, the Wagon Guard had become an embarrassment to Mr. Malan, and he banned National Party members from associating with it.

A year earlier, Mr. Both married Anna Elizabeth Rossouw, who went by the name Elise and who died in 1997. They had two sons and three daughters. He married Barbara Robertson in 1998.

In the postwar years, economic and social uncertainty eroded the popular base of the Smuts government, which had advocated a comparatively liberal approach toward race relations. In the 1948 general election, Mr. Malan’s Nationalists, campaigning on a platform of white supremacy and racial segregation, were swept to power. Mr. Botha, who had become secretary of the party’s National Youth League in 1946, won a seat in Parliament.

Over the next six years under Mr. Malan’s leadership, the foundations of the Apartheid state were laid. The Nationalists imposed segregation on almost all aspects of South African life. They passed laws prohibiting mixed marriages and extramarital sex between races and regulated almost all other social relations. Freedom of movement was limited: most blacks were required to carry passbooks. And “independent” homelands, or tribe-based states, were created to make the various African ethnic groups easier to control.

Throughout the 1950’s there were protests and other forms of passive resistance. In 1960, some 70 protesters were killed and nearly 200 wounded when the police opened fire on a demonstration in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg. The climate changed after that.

Within the African National Congress, founded in 1912 to advance the cause of blacks, the leadership diverged, with men like Nelson Mandela advocating violent opposition to the racist state. By 1970, many anti-apartheid leaders, including Mr. Mandela, were either in jail or living in exile.

Meanwhile, Mr. Botha rose through the government ranks. In 1961, he became the minister of colored affairs; in 1966, minister of defense. His rise coincided with the country’s deepening political isolation. In 1961, South Africa left the Commonwealth of Nations, whose members were strongly critical of apartheid policies. As the country’s neighbors achieved independence from colonial rule in the 1960’s and 70’s, many cut off diplomatic, cultural and commercial ties with South Africa.

In 1974, the United Nations revoked South Africa’s seat in the General Assembly. Three years later, it imposed a weapons embargo. In the West, particularly in the United States, debate over imposing trade sanctions on South Africa reached a fever pitch.

But the disciples of apartheid hung tough. Huge reserves of gold and diamonds fueled the Afrikaners’ ability to circumvent economic embargoes and political sanctions. As defense minister, Mr. Botha increased military spending to 20 percent of the government’s budget, conducted a clandestine weapons trade with Israel and other states and pushed for the development of nuclear weapons.

In the early 1980’s, Mr. Botha’s government launched military strikes on the forces of the African National Congress and other insurgent groups in neighboring countries where they had taken sanctuary. Air and ground forces struck at targets in Angola, and South African commandos conducted raids in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

South African forces also equipped and trained rebel movements against the left-leaning African governments that had replaced the ousted Portuguese colonialists. Moreover, under the direction of the State Security Council, created in 1972, Mr. Botha’s government carried out a program to kill anti-apartheid activists.

Racial violence and political protests continued to rise. Increasing numbers of white South Africans joined the demonstrations. Although Mr. Botha had come to power with the pledge to uphold apartheid as well as improve race relations, the two goals were mutually exclusive. Despite a seeming willingness to relax some apartheid laws, he remained adamant in his refusal to grant blacks political power.

The situation deteriorated. Police stations and other government installations were attacked. In 1985, the government announced an indefinite state of emergency. In 1986, the Anglican anti-apartheid campaigner Bishop Desmond Tutu addressed the United Nations and urged further sanctions against South Africa.

Mr. Botha grew defiant. “We are not a nation of jellyfish,” he declared in a party speech in 1986. An aide, Hendrik Jacobus Coetsee, recalled: “The Old Crocodile was obsessed with looking tough and in control. He never wanted to show any sign of weakness.”

But even within the Botha government, pressure was growing for negotiations with the African National Congress. Clandestine overtures were made to Mr. Mandela, who had been in prison since 1963. The Botha government, hoping to appear reasonable to the world, was looking for a way to free Mr. Mandela without appearing weak to its own Afrikaner constituency.

In March 1989, Mr. Mandela offered to negotiate a political settlement, reversing the African National Congress’s commitment to overthrowing the white government by force. Mr. Botha, who had had a stroke that January, replied that the two men should meet. The did so on July 5, 1989.

In the end, the encounter turned out to be little more than a courtesy call. “Yet, in some subtle way a line had been crossed,” Mr. Sparks wrote. “After that there was no stopping the process. It was just a matter of time and the man.”

Mr. Botha’s days in office were numbered. Increasingly ill-tempered and authoritarian, he remained reluctant to move on with reforming the nation’s apartheid policies. In February 1989, a month after his stroke, for reasons that are unclear, he had renounced his position as National Party leader while keeping the presidency. The move left him open to younger rivals. That August, at a cabinet meeting, his successor as party leader, Mr. de Klerk, followed by other ministers, suggested that he step down. That night, in an angry, rambling broadcast, the president announced that he would resign.

Under the new government, led by Mr. De Klerk, apartheid unraveled. In 1990, Mr. Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison and the African National Congress became a legal political party. In April 1994, the republic’s first multiracial election was held. The African National Congress won an overwhelming victory, and Mr. Mandela became president. In May 1996, a new national constitution was adopted.

Apartheid was finished. In the late 1990’s, the brutal methods to prolong its existence were exposed during hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Actions by the country’s security forces and police during Mr. Botha’s years in power had killed 4,000 people; as many as 50,000 others were held without trial.

The aging Botha derided the commission as a witch hunt. After failing to attend a hearing in Cape Town on Dec. 19, 1997, he was found guilty of contempt of the law, fined 10,000 rand and sentenced to a suspended 12-month prison term. The conviction was overturned on appeal, and the Old Crocodile remained as intransigent as ever.

“I have nothing to apologize for,” he said. ‘’I will never ask for amnesty. Not now, not tomorrow, not after tomorrow.”

Correction: Nov. 3, 2006

Because of an editing error, an obituary available on on Tuesday about P.W. Botha, the South African prime minister who tried to preserve the apartheid system, misstated the year his first wife, Anna Elizabeth Rossouw, known as Elise, died. It was 1997, not 1977.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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