The Big Crocodile bites back at apartheid inquiry

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The Independent Online
Despite months of behind-the- scenes wooing, South Africa's former president, PW Botha, has said he intends to ignore a subpoena to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with exposing the truth about the country's apartheid past.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu yesterday said that if Mr Botha, 81, former leader of the National Party, refused to attend a hearing on the workings of the old State Security Council, he would be prosecuted. The commission is trying to establish how the council, which Mr Botha chaired, fitted into the chain of command that allowed atrocities to take place. Those who ignore the TRC's bidding face a fine, or two years in jail.

In an interview with the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport, Mr Botha called the TRC a "circus". The Archbishop said he was sad Mr Botha appeared to have thrown down a gauntlet. He has visited Mr Botha at his retirement home to persuade him to co-operate with the Commission in the interests of reconciliation.

The TRC submitted questions for written reply, but Mr Botha missed the deadline. The commission offered to take the hearing to him after claims that he was too ill to travel to Johannesburg. "In showing this consideration for Mr Botha we have angered many South Africans who have accused us of being spineless for not unceremoniously calling him to account," Archbishop Tutu said.

In his Rapport interview Mr Botha warned the TRC not to come anywhere near his home. He was prepared to meet the Archbishop again in private, at the local museum, where they could have tea. It is difficult to imagine the Groot Krokodil (Big Crocodile), as Mr Botha is known, and the Archbishop chatting for long. "I am not asking for amnesty," he said. "I did not authorise murders and I do not apologise for the struggle against the Marxist revolutionary onslaught."

Mr Botha claims the commission is turning into a revenge campaign against Afrikaners: "The truth is simply that the commission does not bring reconciliation but is trying to tear the Afrikaner and the South African nation apart." He added that Afrikaners could not be expected to apologise for their existence or for struggling to find a place in the sun.