FROM THE ARCHIVES | What I've learnt: Pik Botha

07 August 2011 - 05:00 By Marion Scher
Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha and Cuban negotiator Jorge Risquet in Pretoriaa on December 15 2010.
Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha and Cuban negotiator Jorge Risquet in Pretoriaa on December 15 2010.
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Alet Pretorius

Apartheid-era foreign affairs minister Pik Botha has died at the age of 86. In this article from our archives, which was originally published in The Sunday Times in 2011, he shared his thoughts on climate change, the power of women, and Mandela's legacy.

Roelof Frederik Botha is known internationally as the world's longest-serving minister of foreign affairs. 

Botha is a political survivor who served under political leaders as ideologically different as BJ Vorster and Nelson Mandela. But there's another side to this larger-than-life character - philosopher, amateur geologist, poet, writer, proud father and grandfather.

He shares some of his life lessons:

Life goes by in a flash, it's hard to grasp the concept of time. After all, what's an entity with no beginning or end - the mind boggles.

The church didn't like my theories on the origins of man - after all, for over 1000 years they repressed all knowledge of it. I find it amazing that even today people can doubt evolution or Darwin. And I still can't understand how churches preclude women from the same positions as men. I think they're afraid of women.

Speaking your mind isn't a bad thing. There were many times when I made myself unpopular with my words.

In 1970, in my maiden speech in Parliament, I urged the then National Party to subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wasn't allowed to speak in Parliament for almost two years after that.

In 1986, after I said during an interview that we could have a black president in the future, I was severely reprimanded and almost fired. But within the party the remorse in hearts and minds was growing and soon became intolerable, coupled with our acknowledgement that if we perpetuate apartheid, inevitably it would result in the destruction of the country.

Nelson Mandela's legacy must never be forgotten. I first met Nelson Mandela at the historic meeting between the former government and the ANC at Groote Schuur on 2nd May 1990. I couldn't believe his remarkably thorough knowledge of Afrikaner history, the pain and suffering of the women and children who died in concentration camps and the poverty that followed.

He asked me a question I was never able to answer. Why, when the Afrikaner started recovering from his devastation, didn't he reach out to his fellow black South Africans, who were equally impoverished, degraded and subjugated? He said this without rancour or enmity.

There's a bigger threat to the world than any war today - climate change. This is a more lethal threat than even the Cold War, where the world was faced with nuclear bombs.

People should appreciate women for their beauty and their power. Few women know how much power they wield. The way they speak, walk, and behave - it's very appealing. It's the combination of hair, eyes and lips. That's a make-or-break picture, dangerous, enchanting.

I knew some very powerful women in politics - the cheeky young Helen Suzman and, of course, the one and only Evita Bezuidenhout. I've been doubly blessed by having had two amazing women in my life, my late wife Helena and my wife today Ina - I don't deserve them.

Retirement gives you time to enjoy your family. I regret the time I spent away from my family - you can never get that back. But now it's enriching to spend time with them. I'm trying to make up for what I've lost.

Your children and grandchildren are your greatest asset in life. My children are all so different. From my eldest son, Roelof, who's a doctor of economics, to Pieter, a rock musician and my artistic daughters, photographer Lien and artist Anna. I'm very proud of them all.

My children are all so different. From my eldest son, Roelof, who's a doctor of economics, to Pieter, a rock musician and my artistic daughters, photographer Lien and artist Anna. I'm very proud of them all.

This country must belong to all people. In 1998 I came around from a prostate cancer operation to find President Mandela standing next to my bed in ICU. He told me not to worry, to relax - get well and carry on. He's driven by the realisation that we need one another to make this country a success.

When we sat down to negotiations before 1994 we agreed that steps would have to be taken to assist the previously disadvantaged in education, health services, agriculture and other fields, but to date offers of assistance have been ignored. There are people with a wealth of experience, including myself, ready and willing to step in and help if requests were made.

 I'd be happy to sit with anyone, including Julius Malema, and help find solutions.

I love rugby and played in the first team at high school in Potchefstroom. But I don't understand the emotions that people waste on the game. Winning doesn't make you richer, poorer or more healthy. It reminds me of cavemen fighting over their spoils - it's a primal urge. I tell myself before a big game I'm not going to be upset if we (read Blue Bulls) lose - it's a game and I'm lucky to be able to watch it. But I'd feel better if they won. 

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