Pieter Willem Botha, South Africa’s former Prime Minister and first Executive President

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

BY 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.

Tony Iyare

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 apartheid exit 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 Commission (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.

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