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TRC Finding on Former President PW Botha

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TRC Report, Volume Five, Chapter Six: Findings and Conclusions, section 102:


During the period that he presided as head of state (1978-1989), according to submissions made to, and findings made by, the commission, gross violations of human rights and other unlawful acts were perpetrated on a wide scale by members of the former South African Police (SAP) and the former South African Defence Force (SADF), among others. Such violations included:
  • the deliberate unlawful killing, and attempted killing, of persons opposed to the policies of the government, within and outside South Africa;
  • the widespread use of torture and other forms of severe ill treatment against such persons;
  • the forcible abduction of such persons who were resident in neighbouring countries;
  • covert logistical and financial assistance to organisations opposed to the ideology of the ANC and other liberation movements both within and outside of South Africa, enabling those organisations to commit gross human rights violations on a wide scale within and beyond the borders of this country;
  • acts of arson and sabotage against the property of persons and organisations opposed to the government, within and outside of the country.

During the period 1979-89, Mr PW Botha chaired the State Security Council (SSC), established to advise the government on national security issues which were, or were perceived to be, a threat to the government. Under his leadership, the SSC –
  • placed great pressure on the government's security forces to engage robustly against organisations and persons opposed to the government, in their perceived onslaught against the government;
  • used language in its meetings and recommendations that was highly ambiguous and was interpreted by persons with access to the meetings, their minutes and recommendations, as authorising the killing of people;
  • failed to recommend to the government that appropriate steps be taken against members of the security forces who were involved in or who were suspected of being involved in gross violations of human rights, thus contributing to the prevailing culture of impunity;
  • recommended that the government impose states of emergency, under which gross violations of human rights committed against persons opposed to the government increased, and assisted the government in the implementation of the states of emergency;
  • recommended the adoption of principles of counter-revolutionary warfare which led to the increased deployment of special units of the SADF in support of the SAP in South Africa, resulting in a shift of focus in policing from arresting and charging opponents of the government to eliminating opponents and their bases;
  • recommended that the government support covert projects aimed at opposing and destabilising the governments of neighbouring countries which were supportive of liberation movements;
  • recommended that the government support covert projects to help destabilise and oppose organisations and people opposed to the government.

As a consequence, the SSC created a political climate that greatly facilitated the gross violation of human rights, and in which such violations occurred on a wide scale.

Mr Botha was responsible for ordering former minister of law and order Adriaan Vlok and former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe unlawfully to destroy Khotso House in Johannesburg, (a building occupied by organisations considered by Botha to be a threat to the security of the government), thereby endangering the lives of people in and around the building. This decision greatly enhanced the prevailing culture of impunity and facilitated the further gross violation of human rights by senior members of the security forces.

For the reasons set out above and by virtue of his position as head of state and chairperson of the SSC, Botha contributed to and facilitated a climate in which the above gross violations of human rights could and did occur, and as such is accountable for such violations.

From the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Vol 5, Chapter 6, October 1998.

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