PW Botha was the archetypal kragdadige (hardheaded) Afrikaner politician. Known as the Groot Krokodil ('Great Crocodile') because of his abrasive nature, he lead South Africa's white-minority government during the most violent years of anti-Apartheid resistance.
Born: 12 January 1916, Telegraaf Farm, Paul Rous District, Orange Free State, South Africa
Died: 31 October 2006, Die Anker, Wilderness, Western Cape, South Africa
A Rural Beginning
Pieter Willem Botha was born on 12 January 1916 at Telegraaf Farm in the Paul Rous District of the Orange Free State. He was the only son of Pieter Willem and Hendrina (who already had nine children between them from previous marriages). Pieter Willem senior was a typical bittereinder (an Afrikaner who refused to concede defeat at the end of the second Anglo-Boer War) and Hendrina had lost two of her children whilst interred in an Anglo-Boer War concentration camp.
PW Botha initially attended the Paul Rous School, and then the Voortrekker Secondary School, Bethlehem, from which he matriculated. In 1934 he began reading law at Grey University College (now University of the Free State), Bloemfontein. Whilst at university PW Botha also worked as a part-time reporter for Die Volksblad and was an active member of the Afrikaanse Nasionale Studentebond (National Afrikaans Student Association).
Joining the National Party
It was at university that PW Botha began his political career, helping to organize the Gesuiwerde Nationale Party (GNP, Purified National Party the official opposition party run by DF Malan) during local by-elections campaigns and, eventually, becoming the GNP's campus branch chairman. In this latter role he delivered an address to DF Malan during a visit to the university campus. Malan was so impressed he offered Botha a post of party organizer in the Western Cape. Botha immediately dropped his studies and moved down to the Cape Town to take up the post. Whilst working as a full time GNP organizer, PW Botha received a stipend 'selling books' for Nasionale Pers (now Naspers).
Membership of the Ossewabrandwag
In 1939, along with JB Voster and TE Dönges, PW Botha helped form the Cape Town branch of the Ossewabrandwag and became the organization's leader for the Cape. Around the same time, the GNP transformed into the Herenigde Nationale Party (HNP, Re-united National Party).
In August 1941, apparently disillusioned by the Ossewabrandwag (which was suffering internal dispute), Botha wrote a letter to Die Burger newspaper accusing them of interference in national politics. For this he was publicly expelled from the organization. This was fortuitous for the Ossewabrandwag had taken an aggressively pro-Nazi stance at the start of World War II and many of its members (including Vorster) were interned by the Smuts government. The following year DF Malan forbid HNP officials from membership of the Ossewabrandwag and in 1944 completely banned association with the organization by any HNP member.
On 13 March 1943 PW Botha married his first wife, Anne Elizabeth Rossouw (Elize). Elize was the daughter of a pastor from Senekal, Dr SH Roussouw. PW and Elize had two sons and three daughters.
Rising Within the National Party
In 1946 PW Botha was promoted within the HNP to Union Information Officer. Bringing his past experience as a reporter to good use, Botha prepared circulars on HNP policy and created propaganda material. In 1948, the year that the Herenigde Nasionale Party took power, PW Botha won the parliamentary seat for George (a Cape Province town 436 km/240 miles east of Cape Town) and became an MP. The Apartheid era had begun in South Africa. (Botha would continue to hold the parliamentary seat for George until 1984, when he became president.) Campaigning for the general elections in 1953 the HNP became the National Party, and won with an increased majority.
A Post in the Cabinet
When Dr HF Verwoerd became National Party Prime Minister in 1958 he appointed PW Botha as Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs (otherwise known as Deputy Minister of the Interior). In August 1961 Verwoerd moved Botha into a Cabinet position, as Minister of Community Development and Coloured Affairs. Along with the Minster for Justice, BJ Vorster, Botha was known for his staunch support of Verwoerd's segregational Apartheid policy. During this period Botha was ultimately responsible for the forced removals at District Six and other areas in South Africa under the Group Areas Act. In 1964 Botha was made Minister of Public Works.
In 1966 PW Botha was unanimously elected leader of the NP in the Cape Province. At the same time he was appointed to the board of Nasionale Pers - a traditional sinecure for Provincial NP leaders. On 5 April 1966 Verwoerd made Botha Minister of Defence a post he held until 7 October 1980.