PW laid to rest

By Time of article published Nov 8, 2006

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Old National Party stalwarts joined the family of apartheid-era leader PW Botha - and President Thabo Mbeki - on Wednesday for the funeral of the "Groot Krokodil" (Big Crocodile) who died last week at George.

They were among 800 people attending the service at the town's Dutch Reformed Mother Church. Some of them watches a televised version from a marquee outside.

Botha was later buried beside his first wife, Elize, at Hoekwil, a settlement outside George.

Although much of the service was free of politics, Jordanian Christian missionary Dr Bahjat Batarseh told mourners in a lengthy sermon that South Africans should bury the past.

Having bitterness by remembering the past all the time was "like a worm that eats the root of a tree and then the tree collapses," Batarseh said.

"Bury the past or the past will bury you," he said.

Among the old National Party stalwarts was Dr Gerrit Viljoen, 80, who served as minister of education under Botha. He was taken into the church through a back entrance in his wheelchair.

Another early arrival was Gene Louw, who was administrator of the Cape during Botha's term as head of government.

Louw said that he and Botha had had a "longstanding relationship".

He said Botha was being misjudged and that "negative reporting" since his death on his role in South Africa was being done with a political agenda.

"He wanted to go ahead and abolish the entire the system of apartheid. He very definitely wanted to do that. The spirit was there to abolish it, to lighten the burden on the people."

Also at the service were former SA Defence Force chief Constand Viljoen, who described Botha as a "strict, honest politician" who had played a vital role in starting the process of change in South Africa, and former head of national intelligence, Niel Barnard.

Botha's successor, FW de Klerk was also at the service.

Meanwhile, standing outside the church grounds was another group of people with very different opinions of the former state president to the mourners inside.

"I'm here just to see my black president," said Nomamsi Dlepu, of Lawaaikamp in George, referring to President Thabo Mbeki.

"I don't care for Botha, He doesn't deserve any flowers; he deserves stones. He must know Chris Hani is waiting there with a big fork and Steve Biko is waiting there with a big hammer," said Dlepu.

She said Botha was "a Satan".

"I hate him, really, this guy, this guy. I don't have family today because of him."

A more gentle message cam from the owner of a Labrador named Margriet with a cockatiel perched on its head with a message handprinted on red card and tied with black ribbons, saying "rest in peace".

Handicapped George resident Phillip Kotze said he wanted to present the message to Botha's widow Barbara.

However, they were restricted to staying outside the church. - Sapa

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