Botha fined for defying truth panel

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SOUTH AFRICA'S apartheid-era president, PW Botha, was ordered yesterday to pay a 10,000 rand (pounds 1,000) fine or face 12 months in jail after being found guilty of contempt for ignoring subpoenas to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr Botha, 82, has called the TRC, charged with exposing the atrocities of the apartheid years, a "circus" and a "witchhunt" against Afrikaners.

He immediately launched an appeal against his sentence and conviction, and was released on R50 bail.

It was a predictable move from a man who has spent more than a year defying TRC requests and demands that he give evidence about human- rights abuses, including murders and torture, committed while he was in office.

During his era as chairman of the State Security Council in the turbulent mid-1980s, thousands of blacks were killed and jailed without trial.

Former security-force members who have testified to the TRC have directly implicated Mr Botha in bombings and have claimed that they carried out murders and torture with his authority.

But Mr Botha denied any involvement in illegal actions and refused to apologise for either his own, or his government's, abuses. Mr Botha ignored three summonses to testify before the commission. The TRC did everything it could to avoid taking Mr Botha to court.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC chairman, and President Nelson Mandela tried to persuade him to take part in the reconciliation process, which, it is hoped, will help heal South Africa's wounds.

However, the TRC was also aware of a potential public- relations disaster in the prosecution of an old and frail man. There were concerns that he might become a rallying point for right-wing resistance to the new order. In the end, his court appearances attracted only a few supporters.

Yesterday a black magistrate, Victor Lugaju, said that the jail sentence, suspended for five years, would be imposed if Mr Botha snubbed the TRC again. But it is a hollow victory for the TRC.

For Mr Botha may never face testifying again: the TRC's mandate to investigate human- rights violations expired last month.

Mr Botha will only be called again if the amnesty committee - which may grant indemnity to perpetrators of apartheid-era abuses in return for full disclosure - subpoenas him to answer questions.

Mr Botha showed no emotion after he was sentenced and left the court building in George, on the south-east coast, looking relaxed.