Will he cross  the Rubicon  on the 24th?

Will he cross the Rubicon on the 24th?

There was mounting international pressure on the South African apartheid regime to release Nelson Mandela.
The world had had enough. The time for South Africa to finally rid itself of apartheid had arrived. It could no longer be postponed.
Buckling under pressure, P W Botha and several of his senior members of Cabinet secretly met and acknowledged that the status quo could no longer be maintained.
Apartheid had to make way for a new Constitutional path for South Africa.

It was expected that major reforms including the release of Mandela would be announced on 15 August 1985 at the National Party congress in Natal.
This expectation increased when Pik Botha the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time told the world to definitely expect a radical policy shift by the apartheid regime.
So the entire world waited with great anticipation to hear if President Botha would free Nelson Mandela and unban the African National Congress.
This was a defining moment. One of those rare moments in history i.e. a point in time when history is made.

But when he eventually delivered his speech, the world was disappointed. His speech deviated from his original prepared speech. He delivered his regular “Black and Communist” nonsense that South Africans and the world had come to know him for.

P W Botha had failed to identify and to take advantage of this defining moment. He had failed to cross the Rubicon i.e. to pass a point of no return.
What could easily have become his greatest moment in history became his lowest point.

The international community imposed economic sanctions that saw the rand tumble to unprecedented lows. The economy was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and civil unrest in the country escalated as economic and diplomatic sanctions were intensified.

August 15, 1985 served as the beginning of the end for the once powerful P W Botha. His grip on power and influence in the National Party and government had started to weaken.
He resigned the leadership of the ruling National Party in February 1989. Six months later, he was forced to resign from the presidency as well. He was succeeded by F W de Klerk.
On February 2, 1990, F W de Klerk made the announcement that Botha had failed to make. He announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC, PAC, SACP and other liberation movements.

This set South Africa firmly on a new path. Catastrophe was averted because De Klerk had the courage to do what was best for all South Africans and not just the white minority.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize jointly with Mandela in 1993.

As for PW Botha, he retired to a place next to George a defeated man. He kept away from public life and died of a heart attack in October 2006 aged 90.
I have often wondered what thoughts pre-occupied his mind as he lived out the last days of his life in a free and much better off South Africa where the majority ruled.
Did he regret not having announced the end of the cruel and repressive apartheid system when he had the chance?
Did it bother him that he is remembered as the last defender of a system that dehumanised and robbed black people of dignity?
It must have been tough for him.

Perhaps he thought a lot about August 15, 1985 and wished he could have done things differently. And perhaps he didn’t. I do not know.
But let’s imagine in his final days he did have regrets and he cherished the opportunity to rewrite history.
Let’s imagine he is granted his wish. He is reincarnated. He is no longer the President of the Republic of South Africa but the Prime Minister of Lesotho.
I know it’s silly but just play along.

Imagine he has another speech to deliver. But this time, it is not at the National Party Natal congress but in the Parliament of Lesotho. The date is not August 15, 1985 but February 24, 2017.
With the benefit of hindsight, would he recognise February 24, 2017 as another defining moment?  It is a defining moment because on that day, Lesotho will either assert or undermine the concept of majority rule. This is no different from the situation he faced in August 1985.  Regardless of what happens, the very foundations of our democratic order will be tested. There will be those who will defend the democratic order and those who will be intent to destroy it.
Which of these sides will he align with?

Will his speech be the same “Black and Communist” nonsense that he was known for in the past — the stuff which polarised the nation and unleashed unprecedented social and political upheaval and economic decline?  Or will his speech give hope to a despondent nation? Will it strengthen the nations’ belief and conviction in democracy and enhance trust in politicians?
We would have to wait and see.

Hopefully he has learned that majority rule is a good thing and not a bad thing because it affirms a basic democratic principle that the majority have an indisputable right to govern and not the minority.

Hopefully his actions will not be self-centred but motivated by compassion and the genuine desire to make Lesotho and Basotho stronger and not weaker.
Hopefully he has realised the potential that one missed opportunity has to set in motion events that can quickly jettison a person to the s**t hole of history.

He has seen what things look like from the s**t hole. He has seen first-hand how his name is omitted when great leaders on the continent are mentioned.
His eleven years at the helm of South Africa count for nothing. They elicit painful and sad memories.
His legacy symbolises apartheid. His name comes up only when the worst leaders on the continent are discussed.
That’s how he is remembered.

History is impartial and impersonal. It records facts for what they are. The good things however are seldom remembered. The bad things are always remembered.
Because PW Botha failed to cross the Rubicon, i.e. usher in majority rule, he is remembered as an opponent of democracy and the arch defender of apartheid.
But fortunately for him, he has been given a second chance i.e. 24 February 2017 to get on the right side of history.

Let’s hope this time he crosses the Rubicon because if he doesn’t, he will forever be remembered for his misjudgements and anything good he ever did will never be acknowledged.

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