'He was my bread and botha'

Now the Ou Krokodil can become a pair of shoes and a matching bag in the Museum of Apartheid! Will this be PW Botha’s obituary or just an old bitchery?

Neither.

I am sorry for his family. A death among relatives is never easy and one wishes them well.

That’s the fact: an old man died in the wilderness. But PW Botha is alive and well and wagging his finger and licking his lips in my chorus line.

I was doing him at the launch of the Friends of the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town at the moment of his passing. A swish of a crocodile’s tail passed me by, or was it just wind? I will keep doing PW Botha. He is part of the history of our country and, more than ever, it is important to remind us where we come from, so we can truly celebrate where we are going. As Bette Davis said about Joan Crawford: “Just because she’s dead, doesn’t mean she’s changed!”

My relationship with PW Botha was one of cartoonist and cartoon. Botha wrote my material. All the titles and targets of my one-man shows during the 1980s—Adapt or Dye, Total Onslaught, Beyond the Rubicon—came from his mouth.

After 26 years of impersonating him, I can truly say: yes, he was my bread and botha. I now even look like him …

But ironically the echoes of his rantings are still with us. Today, 20 years later, a GW Bush is repeating what PW Botha said first: “He who is not for us is against us.” Botha used the word “terrorist” in a modern context and frightened us all into silence.

Looking back on his life in politics is the task of those who need to analyse how for so long he wielded the total power we gave him with such bloody success. I always needed some hint of compassion when I did him.

Assassination is easy. Forty-nine percent anger and 51% entertainment is hard. Maybe the feeling that there but for the grace of God go I forced me to try and understand why things went so wrong. So ultra-right. Maybe realising that Botha’s brand of fanatical devotion was the most dangerous. He was not corrupted by wealth. He was not a bullshitter like so many others. He was committed to his patriotic passion and demented dream.

We whites were all plugged into that dream, and when we eventually found humour as a weapon of mass distraction it helped us laugh at our fear and make that fear less fearful.

I think this is a celebration. Not of the death of an old irrelevant dinosaur from a bygone barbarian age, but of the fact that in spite of all he was responsible for, PW Botha died peacefully in his home. Not in jail. Not in exile. That says so much about our present young democracy.

Irony will have the last laugh. Where PW Botha is now, he will have many, many, many feet to wash.

The big silence

When I heard the news of PW Botha’s death, it was like the sound of the rushing of water; hundreds of waterfalls, far, far away.

And after that: a deafening silence.

Hearing about the death of PW Botha was different from hearing about the deaths of any other persons I had ever known, or known about. I heard the news from Etienne van Heerden of Litnet, who sent me an SMS shortly after seven ‘o clock this morning.

When the SMS came through, I was busy mixing milk into a bowl of Pronutro for my six-year-old son before helping him dress and taking him to his pre-primary class.

It was pink Pronutro.

And then the SMS.

And then: the distant rushing of water, the roaring ... It was as if time stood still at that moment, as if every-thing that I was, that I believed in and had worked for, everything around me, had a different meaning.

All of a sudden, everything was void.

It was as if Table Mountain had descended into the sea.

It was like waking up one morning, driving to the city in peak traffic, and suddenly realising Table Mountain isn’t there any more.

Table Mountain is gone. Where it had once stood, is just a gaping hole, just blue sky. As if it was always like that. As if it is the most normal thing on Earth.

Water, lots of water.

Far away.

Rushing.

And in the distant past, memories. Vague memories of songs we used to sing in the dimly lit school halls of apartheid when we were still insolent kids.

Protest songs against PW.

We used to break our wine bottles against the side of the mountain, which isn’t there anymore.

I know that something else will come to me after this deafening silence. I realise that I will feel something akin to melancholy. I know that new words will pop up in my head; words of comfort and even empathy. Maybe a joke or two. The sudden blueness of the sky will have to be described somehow.

“PW is nie dood nie, hy’s net uitgepaas ...”

Yes. The fire-spewing dragon is gone. The hate factory has closed down. The clamour of voices in my head is still. The terror has left me. And the guilt. And the youthful rage.

As I finished dressing my son for school, and stroking his hair, and checking for snot in his nose, I realised that, unlike me, he would never have to go to the army. He might eventually end up fighting other Bothas. But not this one.

I slammed the car door shut behind us and reversed. The sky was a brilliant blue. The streets were strangely calm. And South Africa had a new name. — Koos Kombuis

This article first appeared on Litnet on November 2

No time for crocodile tears

PW Botha is dead, Kobus Bester informs me this morning on RSG’s Monitor, and then immediately plays an off-the-shelf tribute to the Groot Krokodil.

And guess what. I am moved. I really thought I would be glad the day I heard the Finger is no more and now, I’m not. I can’t say that I am bawling in front of my laptop, but I am not excited.

But why not? Maybe it is because I have to admit that a part of my history has died.

My father was a big Nationalist. My grandfather was a big Nationalist. Both supported the Party through thick and thin.

Even though I want to be a rebel, I can’t deny that the Party is part of my psyche and PW was the face I attached to it.

His election to chief leader was a fantastic moment in our home. My father was a big PW man. “PW is a man of the volk,” my father said and inflated his rugby player’s chest.

I saw PW in person on two occasions. The first was during a school visit to Parliament, arranged by our local Oom NP. While we were led through the hallways of power, a revered silence and our teachers pointed towards the stern-looking prime minister approaching.

Another time was in 1983 during a speech in Pietermaritzburg. PW was devastating and had the crowd at his feet. He obliterated his hecklers — his supporters threw out the tannies with their black sashes, legs kicking. I was so excited that I punched my fist in the air, immediately to be told that it is only Communists who do that.

I think PW must have felt as Frankenstein did over his monster. It was PW who abolished the Immorality Act. It was PW who abolished the pass laws and set the unions free. It was PW, with his own strange logic, who gave Indians and coloureds the vote.

But it was also the same PW who glared at international cameras while telling them he would not sell out the white minority. It was also PW who reacted bitterly when Allan Hendrickse donned an enormous costume for short swim on a cold, windy day.

Now he is dead. — Izak de Vries

Izak de Vries, born in 1969, is an Afrikaans author who grew up during the height of PW Botha’s reign. He has published several books. This article first appeared on Litnet, www.litnet.co.za, on November 2

 

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