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The Last King of Apartheid The Last King of Apartheid
by Amin George Forji
2006-11-08 09:36:41
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Pieter Willem Botha, usually refereed to as PW Botha, died on Tuesday October 31st at the age of 90 at his home in the Western Cape. PW Botha led an Apartheid regime in South Africa between 1978 and 1989, and was a quick-tempered man that was called by his own native Afrikaans as “the big crocodile”.

He exported his quick temper into every sphere of his administration, and they were most effective in enforcing racial policies, inherited from his predecessors. Under his regime, many blacks were imprisoned without trial, others killed. The last four years of his administration were marred by nationwide protests, when the majority of blacks felt enough was enough. To quell them, he imposed a state of emergency throughout those years, but that did little to prevent violence.

ovi_botha01To most South Africans, PW Botha’s death is not only significant in that he was the last leader of Apartheid, but it is also a signal to them that apartheid has truly gone for good, and will hopefully never return. In one sense, while burying Mr. Botha, the country will be symbolically burying Apartheid as well.

During his regime and after, he refused to apologize for the evils of Apartheid and said he sensed no wrongdoing. He is one of the key figures who refused to attend Nelson Mandela’s truth and reconciliation commission, which was set up when he came to power in 1994. Chaired by Reverend Arch Desmond Tutu, the commission had as a primary aim to expose the Apartheid era grave atrocities and crimes against the majority black population by the various white minority governments, then enable those who committed these to confess their deeds, then receive forgiveness, so that the country could move forward in peace.

PW remained defiant to his death. While granting an interview prior to his 90th birthday, which was in fact going to be his very last, he maintained that he absolutely had no regrets in the way he ran the country.

The present president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, lived in exile throughout Botha’s presidency. His teenage son, brother and other family members were all killed by Botha’s Apartheid agents. Still, with the odds notwithstanding, his government has opted to give Mr Botha the honour and justice he refused to give others. Flags have been ordered to fly at half-mast, until his funeral next week. Moreover, the government has promised to give him a state funeral, which has taken his wife by enormous surprise. In fact, she confessed to the reporters that her husband will have preferred not to have a state funeral, "He wasn't a man who looked for honour and glory," she said.

The African National Congress (ANC) of Nelson Mandela which was declared illegal under his regime, with most of its top leaders severely tortured was paradoxically one of the first organizations to send a condolence message to his family, "The African National Congress extends its sympathies and condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of former President PW Botha, who passed away. The ANC wishes his family strength and comfort at this difficult time," read an ANC statement.

For much of the history of South Africa, she has known nothing but racial segregation orchestrated by its own various governments, as a means of sustaining white minority rule. Racial discrimination was officially institutionalized as a policy of government in 1948 with the enactment of Apartheid laws.

Every aspect of social life was touched by the race laws. For instance, some areas of the country were marked as "white only." Marriage between white and black was expressly prohibited and blacks could not access "white-only" jobs. In fact, they were required to always carry with them "pass books" that provided information on their rights of access to non-black areas.

Political protest was outright forbidden. The penalties for violation were extremely severe, irrespective of whether such protest was violent or non-violent. Penalties included life imprisonment, banishment and death. Under the race laws, anyone could be jailed by a low-level police officer without a hearing for up to six months with hard labor. In reality, a police cell was a torture chamber, aimed at deterring protests. Most of those who ventured to protest such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu got the hindermost treatment.

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