We’ve all witnessed how heroes can change into villains, with freedom fighters the globe over that got drunk from absolute power and changed their tune to enslave the very people they were meant to liberate. But can the opposite be true?History has not only given us an abundance of fallen champions from Stalin, to Fidel Castro to Robert Mugabe. But folks the likes of Oskar Schindler who saved over a thousand Jews during the holocaust are hard to come by. And if one can in fact swim against their tyrannical grain, was Pik Botha one of them?
This pertinent argument raged on social media from Friday morning 12 October when the former minister of foreign affairs, affectionately known as Pik Botha, succumbed to a long-standing illness in his Pretoria home. Questions about his double role in the history of South Africa made for robust debate among political heads and laymen. The general consensus was that he, as the rest of the Apartheid machine’s apparatus, should be thrown in a hole and forgotten as soon as possible.
But then the better heeled (and read) among us were quick to reference his dual role both as a foreign minister for the Nats and the ANC under Mandela. Surely his work under Mandela cannot and would not wipe his bloody slate clean from all the operations that were run in and around Southern Africa during the so-called Bush/Border War against the MK and SWAPO operatives. But they cannot be ignored either.
His politics drew him as a man conflicted as his countryman Jan Smuts’ reputation and its juxtaposition internationally. His domestic policies were aligned with the strict conservative and racist Apartheid ideal, while abroad his hard-line policies gave way for diplomacy and peacekeeping. In 1988 he was instrumental in brokering and signing the peace treaty between Angola, Cuba and South Africa in Congo Brazzaville; in Namibia he was the central figure that organized a meeting in Zambia between SWAPO’s Sam Nujoma and South West Africa’s Pretoria appointed administrator Willie van Niekerk to discuss the end of the Border War.
The conclusion of these discussions resulted in the independence of Namibia; and finally his first flirting with diplomacy and indeed peacekeeping was his attempt at brokering peace between the ANC and the Apartheid state by having Pretoria sign a non-aggression pact against the peoples of Mozambique called the 1984 Nkomati Accord. The pact proved premature because the Apartheid government and Samora Machel’s Mozambique were not ready to abandon support for their rebel groups, the ANC and the Renamo group respectively. So in effect their proxies continued their aggression. This noble act and others like it solidified Pik Botha as an ally in the plight of African people’s liberation.
In the year 2000, Pik Botha declared his intention to join the ranks of the ANC, after his native National Party was all but dead due to a dilution of ideology and support. His reason for the migration was that he believed that he could do more for the representation of the Afrikaans minority within the party than from outside. One of the biggest points of contention with the ANC was the rolling out of affirmative action policies. He argued that they represented a regression to separatist politics, and that they go against any notion of equality and democracy. He felt that the relentless pursuit of quotas was bad for the country because it was alienating the skilled white minorities into virtual obscurity, leaving the country in the hands of the incompetent masses.
So if lesser beings like Die Groote Krokodil were offered Category 1 state funerals, with a sobering intervention by his widow being the solitary voice of reason to have it be a quiet affair, and the de facto dictator of Bophuthatswana – given his track record of aligning with Afrikaner hardliners and senselessly murdering innocent people in a bid not to relinquish power in the ‘90s in opposition to democratic transition – being offered a Provincial funeral in early 2018, then surely individuals with clear humanitarian track records deserve more than a bon voyage and good riddance from South African society.
Monuments, memorials, statues and state funerals are the rites reserved for the truly special among us. They are symbols of appreciation chartered for those that make a positive difference in our collective lives and we would be poorer without. So, using these lenses, Robert Mugabe would be lauded as deserving of honour, and so would Mangosuthu Buthelezi. So why would Pik Botha not be accorded the same?
David Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg