P. W. Botha
Position: State President
Term Start: September 3 1984
Term End:
Predecessor: Marais Viljoen
Party: National Party

Pieter Willem Botha (January 12, 1916 – ), commonly known as "P. W." and Die Groot Krokodil (Afrikaans for "The Big Crocodile"), was the prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive state president from 1984 to the present. Botha was a long-time leader of South Africa's National Party and a staunch advocate of racial segregation and the apartheid system.

Early lifeEdit

Botha was born on the farm Telegraaf in the Paul Roux district of the Orange Free State, the son of Afrikaner parents. His father, also named Pieter, fought as a commando against the British in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). During the war his mother was interned in a British concentration camp. He initially attended the Paul Roux School and matriculated from Voortrekker Secondary School in Bethlehem, South Africa. In 1934, P.W. Botha entered the Grey University College in Bloemfontein to study law, but left early at the age of 20 in order to pursue a career in politics. He began working for the National Party as a political organiser in the neighbouring Cape Province.

In the years leading to World War II, Botha sympathised with the German Nazi Party and joined the right-wing Afrikaner nationalists in the Ossewabrandwag, or Oxwagon Sentinel (OB). However in later years, with Allied victory looming in Europe, Botha was critical of the national socialist movement, favouring Christian nationalism instead, and condemned the Ossewabrandwag, charging it with "interference" in national politics.

In 1943, Botha married Anna Elizabeth Rossouw (Elize), and the couple had two sons and three daughters.

Parliamentary careerEdit

Botha was first elected to national parliament from the town of George in the Southern cape, as a member of the National Party in 1948 at the beginning of the party's more than four decade tenure in power. In 1958 Botha was appointed Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs by Hendrik Verwoerd. He was appointed defence minister by Prime Minister B.J. Vorster in 1966. When Vorster resigned in 1978, Botha was elected as his successor by parliament.

On becoming prime minister, Botha initially retained the defence portfolio until October 1980, when he appointed chief of the South African Defence Force, General Magnus Malan, as defence minister. Botha pursued an ambitious military policy designed to increase South Africa's military capability. He sought to improve relations with the West – especially the United States – but with mixed results. He argued that the preservation of the apartheid government, though internationally unpopular, was crucial to stemming the tide of African communism, which had made heavy in-roads across Africa, including the creation of the Democratic People's Republic of Africa.

State PresidentEdit

In 1983, amidst war with Madagascar and insurgent groups, Botha proposed a new constitution, which was then put to a vote of the white population. The new constitution changed the executive branch, abolishing the post of prime minister. Instead, the role of head of government would be combined with that of head of state to create a strong, executive presidency with expanded powers. The presidency and cabinet had sole jurisdiction over areas deemed to be of "national" responsibility, such as foreign policy and race relations. The new constitution was heavily criticised by the black majority. In 1984, Botha was elected as the first state president of South Africa under the newly approved constitution.

Implementing the presidential system was seen as a key step in consolidating Botha's personal power. In previous years he had succeeded in getting a number of strict laws that limited freedom of speech through parliament, and thus suppressed criticism of government decisions.

Botha's authoritarian style of leadership made him unpopular in certain western countries, and many condemned him as a harsh, racist dictator. In many western countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom (where the Anti-Apartheid Movement was based) and the Commonwealth there was much debate over the imposition of economic sanctions in order to weaken Botha and undermine the white-minority regime. The Red Scare and Botha's continued instance that if South Africa fell to the communists, all of Africa would soon be lost, have so far kept such measures from being imposed.