Former South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha takes an oath before testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in October 1997. File picture: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters

Pretoria - Considered a liberal by many in South African political circles, apartheid South Africa's former foreign affairs minister Roelof Frederik "Pik" Botha surprised many in January 2000 when he announced that he would join the ruling African National Congress (ANC), led by President Thabo Mbeki at the time.

Perhaps the "liberal" tag applied in comparison to Botha's colleagues in the National Party, and hardliners within the Afrikaner community.

A career diplomat, with sizeable charisma, Botha is regarded as one of the first National Party leaders who saw that democracy in South Africa was inevitable. 

The world's longest-serving foreign affairs minister, Botha was Pretoria's top diplomat, serving under the last three apartheid prime ministers.

Referred in some media publications as "an apostle of apartheid", Botha spent the bulk of his career defending South Africa's indefensible apartheid system of open racial segregation, amidst mounting international criticism.

Botha was nicknamed "Pik" (short for "pikkewyn", which is Afrikaans for "penguin". Word has it that Botha earned the nickname because of a perceived likeness to a penguin in his stance, accentuated when he wore a suit.

Botha also served South Africa as minister of mineral and energy affairs under former president Nelson Mandela in the democratic dispensation.

He retired from politics in 1996 when the National Party withdrew from the government of national unity.

Botha was born in Rustenburg in the then Transvaal on 27 April in 1932. 

He studied law at the University of Pretoria and joined the department of home affairs in the 1950s. A diplomat of note for his government, Botha was appointed foreign affairs minister in 1977.  

Many in South Africa still remember how Botha the liberal, was severely reprimanded, publicly by then president Pieter W. Botha in 1986 for having said a black president may one day rule South Africa. 

Botha served as ambassador to the United Nations and the United States in the mid-1970s.

He married Helena Sussana Bosman in 1953. Two sons - rock musician, Piet Botha, and economist, Roelof Botha and two daughters - Anna Hertzog and artist Lien Botha - were born from this marriage. Mrs Botha passed away on 29 April 1996. 

Botha later married Ina Joubert in April 1998.

He died on Friday, October 12 2018, in Pretoria at the age of 86. He was admitted in hospital last month for a heart problem.

African News Agency/ANA