Botha Quits, Criticizes SuccessorBy William Claiborne
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 15, 1989; Page A12
JOHANNESBURG, AUG. 14 -- An embittered President Pieter W. Botha abruptly resigned from office tonight, heaping criticism on his expected successor just three weeks before their governing National Party faces its most crucial parliamentary election battle since it came to power in South Africa in 1948.
In a nationwide television broadcast, Botha said he could no longer continue as president after he was not consulted about plans by party leader and education minister Frederik W. de Klerk to meet with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda in that country later this month.
Botha said that the outlawed African National Congress -- the chief group fighting white-majority rule in South Africa -- is "orchestrated and organized" from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and that the command of the military wing of the ANC, the Spear of the Nation, is located there.
"The ANC is enjoying the protection of President Kaunda and is planning insurgency activities against South Africa from Lusaka," Botha declared in a hard-line address that contrasted sharply with the moderate, reformist rhetoric that has been the recent norm from most of his party colleagues.
Since the 73-year-old Botha was due to retire soon anyway, his abrupt resignation is unlikely by itself to have any dramatic impact on South African policy toward resolving the long and costly conflict between the white minority and the disenfranchised black majority.
But the manner in which he was effectively forced out of office by cabinet ministers regarded as less intractable about talking with ANC patrons like Kaunda -- indeed, even the ANC itself -- could serve as a warning signal to hard-liners still walking the corridors of power of the police and military establishment.
The state Bureau for Information announced tonight that an acting president appointed by the cabinet -- who is almost certain to be de Klerk -- will be sworn in at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Pretoria and will hold office until the results of the Sept. 6 elections for the segregated parliament are known.
Botha said in his speech that he had asked the cabinet what reason he should give the public for abruptly leaving office. "They replied I could use my health as an excuse. To this I replied that I am not prepared to leave on a lie," Botha said, his voice and facial expression revealing what appeared to be a mixture of sadness and bitterness over ending nearly a half-century of government service under acrimonious circumstances.
"It is evident to me," he said, "that after all these years of my best efforts for the National Party and for the government of this country, as well as the security of our country, I am being ignored by ministers serving in my cabinet."
Since he suffered a mild stroke on Jan. 18 and resigned as National Party leader two weeks later, Botha has become estranged from the party -- through whose ranks he rose to become prime minister in 1978 and president in 1984, when the constitution was rewritten to combine the functions of heads of state and of government.
Since then, Botha has concentrated unprecedented power in the highest executive office, heading what one biographer called an "imperial presidency" and gradually alienating many members of his government.
Referring in his speech to guidelines governing travel abroad by ministers, Botha said he had sent a letter to de Klerk on June 2 in which he wrote, "I am informed of policy statements that completely ignore the state president. I am also informed of proposed foreign visits by you without complying with the prescribed rules," an apparent reference to trips that de Klerk has since made to Europe and Mozambique.
In a joint interview broadcast on state-run television after Botha's speech, de Klerk and Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha said the president's "memory is sometimes at fault" and insisted that they had kept him informed of their plans to meet with Kaunda. The foreign minister said that if Botha were concerned about the ANC in Lusaka, he should not himself have visited Britain or Italy, where the ANC also has offices.
The relationship between the president and de Klerk has been uneasy since Feb. 2, when, two weeks after his stroke, Botha stepped down as leader of the National Party and the party's parliamentary caucus chose de Klerk to succeed him instead of Botha's preferred candidate, Finance Minister Barend du Plessis.
De Klerk quickly consolidated his support in the caucus, leading almost immediately to a clash with Botha over the date of the parliamentary election, which in turn would determine when Botha would step aside as president. The party leadership wanted the election -- and Botha's retirement -- in June, while Botha, in a surprise television address, said that under the constitution he was entitled to remain in office until next March and that he was even considering running for another five-year term.
A number of party strategists felt that de Klerk, who is 18 years younger than Botha and widely perceived abroad and by many South African whites as more pragmatic and open to change, was needed for South Africa to embark on a program of political change.
After a series of tense meetings in Cape Town, the struggle was temporarily put to rest on April 6 when Botha and de Klerk reached a compromise in which Botha agreed to retire after the September elections, clearing the way for de Klerk's accession to the presidency.
But beneath the dispute over retirement dates simmered a larger and more fundamental disagreement over Botha's insistence that the position of chief executive and leader of the parliamentary majority party should be separated. De Klerk has repeatedly said the two positions should be unified, although he has advocated a weakening of the powers of the presidency in favor of a stronger cabinet led by a prime minister with narrowly defined authority.
Over the last 11 years, Botha gradually had concentrated administrative controls in the presidency, but by resigning as party leader, he relinquished his partisan power base and the means to stand up to the parliamentary caucus and his own cabinet.
Starting with visits to Mozambique and Zaire last fall, Botha had begun projecting himself as the architect of peaceful relations with black-ruled African states, and party sources said he was furious when he learned of de Klerk's planned meeting with Kaunda, apparently because he believed it was an attempt to upstage him and deny him a place in history for initiating detente with South Africa's neighbors.
Ironically, most of the moves to relax South Africa's apartheid system of racial separation over the past 10 years and the more recent attempts to begin power-sharing discussions with blacks were initiated by Botha. On the other hand, de Klerk, as minister of white education and a staunch supporter of the "group concept" designed to protect the white minority's right to remain separate, has been regarded by many political analysts as a restraining influence on reform-minded members of the government.
© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post Company