The passing today of Pik Botha at the age of 86 marks the end of an extraordinary life that filled the pages of South Africa’s history and current affairs for decades.
Seldom far from controversy as an MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs (1977-1994), and Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs ( 1994-1996), he played a leading role in convincing white South Africans to turn their backs on Apartheid, and embrace a democratic non-racial future.
His energetic and forceful personality was often in conflict with his own political party, and he was nearly forced out of office on several occasions for failure to toe the party line.
Nevertheless, his charisma and popularity with voters, and the sincerity with which he articulated his view of a better future, won out in the end. He was a key leader in the release of Nelson Mandela, and the transition to a constitutional democracy in 1994.
His role was seldom fully appreciated, but it is fair to say that without him it would be difficult to imagine that a successful democratic transition would have been achieved the way it happened.
More than that: he was a personal friend and mentor. A man of engaging knowledge and curiosity, and above all of decency and respect. He loved his country and people, and wanted a better South Africa to emerge from its divided past.
He was an important contributor to the six-part documentary series produced by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, as part of our African Oral History Archive, to record the story of South Africa’s transition for current and future generations, in the words of those who led it.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of a close friend and another giant of that dramatic period of our country’s history. My heart goes out to his wife Ina, and his children and grandchildren.