Pieter Willem Botha, South Africa’s former Prime Minister and first Executive President may be turning in his grave, jeering at the seeming inability of the African National Congress (ANC) led government to give hope to the majority Black population and pull the country away from the brink, writes TONY IYARE
Not many in this clime are oblivious of Wilderness, a serene seaside town with a weird name on the Garden Route of the Southern Cape in South Africa and perhaps one of nature’s most beautiful gifts to mankind which apartheid era President, Pieter Willem Botha made a home.
It is situated a short distance east from the city of George, on the N2 down the Kaaiman’s River Pass. Known for its long and luxuriant white sand beaches and lagoons, the town located directly on the Touw River Lagoon, caters mostly to holiday-makers.
The town experiences an extremely mild climate, typical of the Garden Route and has little temperature variation, seldom dropping below 10 °C and above 28 °C, with year-round rainfall. The flora type is Afromontane gallery forest.
The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe steam train originally ran through the town en route between George and Knysna during its years of operation.
Lying in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains in a region of incomparable beauty, Wilderness is an attractive holiday resort with alluring beaches and numerous vantage points to glean the whales and dolphins.
As far back as the late 1800’s, the reputation of Wilderness with its natural bounty of rivers and lakes and intrinsic peace and tranquillity, ideal for seaside holidays, was established in a little stone farmhouse. A seaside boarding house was established in the old homestead – and so began the tradition of hospitality which has made this small resort town famous all over the world.
The romantic resort of Wilderness lies 15 km east of George, between the Kaaimans River in the West and the Goukamma Nature Reserve in the east, bordered by the Outeniqua Mountains in the north and the Indian Ocean in the south.
Wilderness not only overlooks the sea, but also the placid lagoon (Touw River Estuary), the Serpentine, which meanders between the Touw River, Island Lake and Rondevlei. This is a favourite venue for waterskiing and attracts enthusiasts from far and wide. Recreational activities in Wilderness include hiking, mountain-biking, bird- and whale-watching, hang- and paragliding, horse riding, scenic drives, day tours, angling, boating and other water sports.
Excellent viewpoints are Map of Africa with breathtaking scenery of forests, lakes, mountains and coastline and Dolphin’s Point, an excellent vantage point from which to study whales and dolphins. Kaaimans River Bridge is a much favoured spot for photography and particularly for taking snaps of the Outeniqua Choo-Choo that travels along the coastline between George and Knysna.
Over 800 years old, the Woodville Big Tree creates shaded areas with its massive branches, making it a great picnic spot. Take a stroll along the boardwalk (also wheelchair-friendly) which is part of the Pied Kingfisher Trail and home to a wide variety of birds. One wonders how a town that exudes so much beauty could have gotten such a name.
Wilderness is significant as the home of Botha, fondly called P.W. Crocodile, until his death in 2006. He savoured his life in retirement here after leaving power on account of stroke. As Prime Minister from 78-84 and later first executive President from 1984-89, he was intransigent on the issue of conceding power to South Africa’s Black majority.
With the outbreak of xenophobia as a result of growing restlessness of the Black population owning to the inability of the African National Congress (ANC) led government to provide jobs and respond to demands of social welfare to give hope to the teeming Black population, some may argue that Botha was vindicated.
“I am not prepared to lead White South Africans and other minority groups on a road to abdication and suicide,” he had told the then ruling White dominated National Party congress in August 1985 when pressed for concession
Botha would be amused that the South Africa he presided over with daunting efficient infrastructure is beginning to wane under an ANC government. Eskrom, the power company is ailing and load shedding is now commonplace. The government couldn’t even guarantee water in some places as it had to be shared like rations. Many Whites have locked up their funds rather than invest it to generate jobs because they have no faith in the ANC leadership.
He fiercely opposed the 1992 apartheidexit referendum by his successor, President Frederick. W. de Klerk’s in which he campaigned for a “No vote,” denouncing de Klerk’s administration as “irresponsible” for opening the door to black majority rule. Bolstered by the support from conservative forces, Botha, Die Groot Krokodil, Afrikaans word for “The Great Crocodile”, also refused to testify at the Truth and Reconciliation Coimmission (TRC) set up by the Mandela government. For his scorn of the TRC, he was fined and given a suspended jail sentence for crimes against humanity. The sentence was later overturned on appeal.
He was however accorded the courtesies of a former President when he passed on in 2006. But spurning offers of a lavish state burial by the Thabo Mbeki government, as part of reconciliation efforts to heal the scars of apartheid, the family opted to bury Botha who died at 90, quietly in Wilderness like renowned US President, Thomas Jefferson and father of modern France and President of the Fifth Republic, Charles De Gaulle.
The apartheid era strongman may just be having some big laugh from his grave watching the country’s descent into savagery with the rise of xenophobic attacks on foreigners particularly fellow Africans as the ANC government remains prostrate to offer sop to the people since the advent of multi-racial South Africa.
This led recently to some diplomatic row with Nigeria which arranged the evacuation of hundreds of its citizens back to the country. It also recalled its Ambassador. Worse is that these attacks appear to have the consent of the ANC leadership with prominent government officials making statements which seemingly endorsed the massacre of foreigners and looting of their shops. Even President Cyril Ramaphosa exploited the fault lines of xenophobia during the last election.
Haven fallen for the trap to accept nominal freedom while the economy including choice lands remained firmly in the hands of the minority White population, the ANC led by Nelson Mandela and its chief negotiator, Ramaphosa, shot itself on the feet when it became spineless in pushing hard with social programmes enunciated in the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955.
Rather than committing itself to massive education of the largely illiterate Black population and a programme of social welfare, including land reform, the ANC cadres who were engrossed in the spoils of office, opted to enfeeble themselves in plots and counter plots for power, avarice and what is generally called “state capture”. Haven herded the country through the rigours of armed struggle in order to exert freedom from the apartheid state, it must be utterly revolting that the ANC settled for a mess of pottage.
Writing on the power play between Mbeki and his erstwhile deputy, Joseph Zuma which eventually led to the easing out of the former in 2006, Michael Plaut, in an analysis for the BBC, had revealed that the ANC had long gone rudderless, disempowering the people with its pursuit of neoliberal policies:
“Thabo Mbeki, although a former member of the South African Communist Party, has used “conventional economic policies” to drive the country’s development agenda.
“Tight monetary and budgetary targets have been set and met. The result has been a period of unprecedented economic growth, reaching 5% a year in recent years.
“In June 1996, Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel introduced a neo-liberal economic strategy known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR).
“This included commitments to open markets, privatisation and a favourable investment climate.”
Although the ANC and Cosatu were also opposed to the neoliberal policies spelt out under GEAR, the Central Committee of the Communist Party at its congress of July 1998 was unequivocal in its opposition:
“We remain convinced that GEAR is the wrong policy. It was wrong in the process that developed it, it is wrong in its overall strategic conception, and it is wrong in much of its detail. At the end of the day, we cannot allow our entire transformation struggle to be held hostage by conservative approaches to the budget deficit.”
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the Communist Party had earlier said that, “Despite the many modest gains that our own democracy has made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our own self-imposed structural adjustment programme, GEAR, failed to make a dent in unemployment (unemployment actually increased dramatically between 1996 and 2006), and eroded the capacity to build a developmental state.”
According to Plaut, “These criticisms are not just held by the Communist Party, they are a reflection of the unease on the left as a whole at the policies that Thabo Mbeki adopted. Anger at the President’s strategy to tackle the problems of unemployment, in particular, contributed to his downfall.”
In April 2001 the country’s national daily, The Star, had a headline that read “Mbeki plot rocks ANC”.
According to the report, President Mbeki had sent his Minister of Safety and Security to accuse three leading members of the party of plotting to oust him.
The accused include former ANC secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa, now President and two former provincial premiers, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa, who were among the party’s most respected figures.
All three were men who had driven to seek their fortunes in business after being marginalised by Mr Mbeki. To this day, there is no clear explanation why these extraordinary charges were made. Revered Elder Statesman and former President, Nelson Mandela himself emerged from retirement to say that he held all three in “high esteem”.
Both The Mail and The Guardian of London saw this as some antics of Joseph Stalin: “Many observers have dismissed the plot theories as a strategy to warn off potential competitors with ambitions to challenge Mbeki’s leadership.”
“No evidence was ever laid against them, no charges were laid and the matter was swept under the carpet. However, it was certainly not forgotten,” Plaut said.
Ramaphosa, Sexwale, Phosa along with Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of Cosatu and Nzimande were among those who eventually wielded the knife against Mbeki
Iyare, a Communication & Development Consultant is also an International Relations Analyst.