Pik Botha: Key figure in South Africa's apartheid transition dies

Friday October 12 2018

Pik Botha

Pik Botha served in both the apartheid regime and Nelson Mandela's government. PHOTO | AFP 

More by this Author
More by this Author

Former South African foreign minister Roelof "Pik" Botha, whose long career in government straddled both the apartheid era and the presidency of Nelson Mandela, has died aged 86.

Mr Botha served as foreign minister for 17 years until the end of the apartheid in 1994.

He then joined Mandela's cabinet after the end of white-minority rule and the country's first non-racial election in 1994.

He spent most of his career defending the apartheid system, even though he was regarded as a liberal figure "working for a bad government".

"As you know, originally we were enemies," Mr Botha told the BBC in 2013.

"From our point of view, (Mandela) led an organisation which we regarded as a terrorist organisation and they saw themselves as freedom fighters.

"Of course all that had to change. It is not always that simple and easy to change mental attitudes, mindsets but eventually it did change. He played the role of a saviour."

He had several clashes with the hardline government of president PW Botha, who was no relation.

In 1985, he drafted a speech that suggested Mr Mandela could be released from prison -- which did not happen until 1990.

The following year he said that the country could one day be ruled by a black president, earning a public rebuke from his boss.

He served as a minister in Mr Mandela's first post-apartheid government, praising the president as a healing figure.

Mr Botha also served as mines and energy minister in Mandela's government before retiring in 1996.

His son, Piet Botha confirmed to South African media that his father died in his sleep during the night.

"His wife Ina was with him until the end," he said.

"He was very sick during the last three weeks and his body just couldn't take it anymore".


Roelof Frederik Botha was born in 1932 in Rustenburg, Transvaal.

He began his diplomatic career in the South African mission in Stockholm in 1953 and turned to politics in the 1970s.

His profile rose as he became an envoy to the US and UN, then assumed the post of foreign minister in 1977, serving mainly under PW Botha.

The 1980s saw tough challenges as international opposition to the apartheid regime grew.

Pik Botha then served as minister of mineral and energy affairs under Mr Mandela from 1994 to 1996, when he retired from politics.

In a BBC interview in 2013, he praised Mr Mandela for "his capacity to forgive and his will to improve the country".

He said Mr Mandela had told him: "We need each other to succeed."