Botha fined for his refusal to answer Truth Commission

The truth and Reconciliation Commission drew first blood yesterday in its political battle against the former South African president…

The truth and Reconciliation Commission drew first blood yesterday in its political battle against the former South African president, Mr P.W. Botha. The octogenarian Afrikaner leader was found guilty of contempt for refusing to heed subpoenas to appear before it.

Mr Botha, who headed the white-dominated government throughout the 1980s when the struggle against apartheid intensified on all fronts, was fined 10,000 rand (about £8,600) or imprisonment for a year by a black magistrate, Mr Victor Lugaju, in the regional court in George in the Cape.

The once physically robust but now frail-looking Mr Botha was sentenced to a further 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for five years, for ignoring three summonses to answer personally questions posed by the TRC's human rights violation committee.

But Mr Botha immediately served notice that he would continue his struggle against what he believes is a TRC bias towards the African National Congress and against Afrikaners.


After he was released on bail of 50 rand, his lawyers told journalists that an appeal against his conviction and sentence had already been filed with the High Court in Cape Town. Not to be outdone, the TRC deputy chairman, Dr Alex Boraine, told a news conference that Mr Botha could still be subpoenaed to testify before the commission's amnesty committee which, unlike its human rights violation committee, had not yet completed its work.

Dr Boraine, who is loathed by Mr Botha and the Afrikaners who sympathise with him for his perceived political bias and sanctimonious demeanour, noted point edly that Mr Botha had been given every opportunity to retract and, when he refused to do so, afforded a fair trial, unlike many of his opponents who were detained without trial during his term as head of government from 1978 to 1989.

Pronouncing his verdict yesterday Mr Lugaju said: "It is the unanimous decision of the court that the failure of the accused to appear [before the TRC] was unlawful, intentional and without sufficient cause. The accused is accordingly found guilty on the main charge."

Mr Botha, who was accompanied by his new wife, Barbara, heard the verdict without visible signs of distress. He did not testify, sitting for the most part

expressionless in a padded chair as a succession of witnesses implicated him in political crimes committed by security forces under the previous regime.

Reporters who followed Mr Botha to a nearby retirement home yesterday in the hope of eliciting a comment were told by security guards to respect his privacy.

His retreat into silence contrasted with his behaviour at the start of the trial when, after the first day's hearing, he held an impromptu conference and vigorously defended himself and berated the government of President Nelson Mandela for leading South Africa to the brink of disaster.

On the penultimate day of the trial, his lawyers presented Mr Botha's case for refusing to heed subpoenas.

"The commission was clearly prejudiced against the accused," his lawyer told the court. He contended that the questions posed to Mr Botha by the TRC mirrored those raised by Mr Mandela's ruling ANC, and criticised the failure to read Mr Botha's submission of over 1,800 pages to the commission.

In another trial yesterday Lucas Mangope, former president of Bophuthatswana, one of the putatively independent black states established under the policy of grand apartheid, was sentenced to imprisonment for two years, suspended for five years, and fined after being found guilty on multiple counts of theft and fraud.