JOHANNESBURG — Pik Botha, the last foreign minister of South Africa’s apartheid era and a contradictory figure who staunchly defended white minority rule but eventually recognized that change was inevitable, died on Friday at age 86.
Botha died in “the early hours of the morning” at his home after an illness, his son, Roelof, told South Africa’s eNCA news outlet.
Internationally, Botha was the most visible representative of apartheid at the height of protests and sanctions against the racist rule that ended with Nelson Mandela’s election as the country’s first black president in 1994.
As such, the longtime foreign minister was vilified around the world while drawing the ire of his own boss, President P.W. Botha, when he said in 1986 that South Africa might one day have a black leader.
Pik Botha, who was not related to the apartheid-era president, later served as minister of mineral and energy affairs under Mandela, and said in 2000 that he would join the African National Congress, the ruling party that had led the movement against white minority rule for decades.
By that time, however, Botha was no longer active in politics. He made few public comments in recent years during the scandal-marred tenure of President Jacob Zuma, who resigned in February.
Botha was “absolutely delighted” when Cyril Ramaphosa, a key ANC negotiator during the transition to democratic rule in the early 1990s, replaced Zuma as South Africa’s leader, Botha’s son said.
Botha, also a former South African ambassador to the United States, was foreign minister from 1977 until the end of apartheid in 1994.
He was involved in negotiations in the late 1980s that led to independence in neighboring Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, where South Africa had been involved in a conflict of Cold War proxies.
The reduction in regional tensions was followed by the 1990 release of Mandela, who had spent 27 years in apartheid prisons.
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press