ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
P.W. Botha has died. He was the last hard line white president of South Africa. Botha was nicknamed the big crocodile for his belligerence and temper. And he was the face of racist South Africa during the hype of its anti-apartheid struggle. And the famous speech in 1985, under international pressure, Botha was expected to make some concessions to the notion of black majority rule. Instead, he said this.
Mr. P.W. BOTHA (Former South African President): South Africans' problems will be solved by South Africans and not by foreigners. We are not going to be deterred from doing what we think best, nor will we be forced into doing what we don't want to do.
SIEGEL: Botha died today at his home on South Africa's Southern Cape Coast. He was 90 years old and joining us now to talk about Botha and his legacy is NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault. And Charlayne, is there a legacy, and if so what might Botha be remember for having been the leader from 1978 to 1989 in South Africa?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well Robert, I don't think it's a proud legacy. I think P.W. Botha went to his death as a stanch advocate of racial segregation, of white supremacy. He'll be remembered as the architect of apartheid, but even more, he'll be remembered for refusing to apologize and to say that all of the crimes against humanity that were committed under his régime, he refused to apologize for them.
SIEGEL: There was no deathbed conversion here for P.W. Botha.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, I mean Botha went to his bed, I believe and I think there will be many who will believe, that he felt that he was right. Those who were so grounded in racial supremacy as were the defenders of apartheid believed that it came from God, that they were born to rule. And so even though their white supremacist government and belief was based on the Bible, they killed more than 20,000 blacks, imprisoned them, tortured them. And then when he was called, when everyone else was stepping forward in the search for truth and reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he called it a circus.
SIEGEL: It's a very different country now from the one that Botha was the leader of. Does his death mean anything to South Africans today?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well I think his time passed a long time ago, because when he was actually removed from office and succeeded by F.W. DeClerck, who did in fact release Nelson Mandela as at one time they hoped the state president would do when he made that famous crossing the Rubicon speech.
I was here and it was 1985 and we were all gathered around the radio thinking that he was going to announce the release of Nelson Mandela and banning of the African National Congress and he did no such thing. As you heard, he was fingering wagging. He was relentless in his defense of white supremacy and I think that what he stands for is a bulwark that was knocked down and so he will be remembered not for any of the good that he did although at times he did loosen some of the strictures of Apartheid but never agreed to black majority rule.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Charlene Hunter-Gault talking with us about the death of P.W. Botha, the former South African President. Charlayne, thank you very much.
HUNTER-GAULT: You're welcome.