Apartheid's former strongman lambasts S African witchhunt against Afrikaners

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Cape Town (Reuter) - The former South African president P.W. Botha declared yesterday that he would never apologise for apartheid, and denounced what he called an assault on the Afrikaner by the country's new black rulers.

"I am not guilty of any deed for which I should apologise or ask for amnesty. I therefore have no intention of doing this," he said.

Mr Botha, aged 80, one of the last two surviving white apartheid presidents, made his remarks in a written statement after a private meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a secret location. No media were allowed to witness the encounter.

Tutu heads a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, intended to heal the wounds of apartheid, which has heard from police officers that Botha almost certainly knew about the torture and murder of black activists.

Mr Botha, who became prime minister in 1978 and president in 1984, said: "I am deeply concerned about the fierce and unforgiving assault which is being launched against the Afrikaner and his language at all levels of society." He had never associated himself with "blatant murder". But "there might have been instances during the conflict of the past where individuals have exceeded the limits of their authority.

"I cannot be expected to take responsibility for the actions of any such individuals."

He said reconciliation between former enemies could be achieved only by "closing the book on the past and focusing on the challenges of the future in unity.

"In many circles the Afrikaner is being isolated to be punished for all the unfavourable events in the history of South Africa ... Concern exists that your commission is being abused in this campaign of revenge against the Afrikaner."

He said British colonialists and not Afrikaners had introduced race discrimination into South Africa. "The Afrikaner was a victim of (British) colonial greed ... The recent conflicts in which we were involved were primarily against Soviet imperialism and colonialism."

He asserted it was he who had begun the process of reform which led to Nelson Mandela being released from a life prison sentence in February 1990. He also claimed responsibility for removing some racist legislation.

"As head of the government of the day - a legally effected government which was internationally recognised - I accept full political responsibility for the policies which were followed," Mr Botha said.

But he added that he and his former cabinet could not be expected to react to every allegation that came up during truth commission hearings.

"Your commission should provide me and the ex-ministers with a document comprehensively detailing all those aspects on which it requires comment or clarification." he told Archbishop Tutu.

Mr Botha said evidence from a former police general to the commission that he had ordered the bombing of an office block in Johannesburg housing anti-apartheid activists was wrong. "These allegations are based on untested, unconfirmed and unsubstantiated hearsay."

Archbishop Tutu's commission has until the end of 1997 to unravel the human rights record of the war over apart-heid, to pardon human rights offenders on both sides of the struggle, and to award limited compensation to victims.