JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela warned one of his white predecessors, P. W. Botha, yesterday that "the law must take its course" if the former prime minister and president continues to refuse to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Botha, 81, has rejected two subpoenas from the panel. If he remains defiant, he could be sentenced to a fine and imprisonment for contempt. Such a humiliation of a white conservative would reverberate in an Afrikaner community already feeling victimized and marginalized by the ruling black majority.
The commission wants to question Botha about his knowledge of human rights abuses during his term as president from 1984 to 1989, when this country's apartheid regime took extreme measures to suppress insurrection by the black majority.
Botha has refused to be part of what he has portrayed as "an apparent attempt to finally discredit the Afrikaner and its former leadership corps."
In a recent written submission to the commission, he said he was not guilty of any serious rights violations, and, therefore, had nothing for which to answer or apologize.
Acknowledging that he had authorized police and defense forces to carry out operations to discredit the African National Congress and other foes of apartheid, Botha said he did not hesitate to take "moral responsibility" for all "justifiable actions" of the security forces.
His refusal to testify before the commission has become a major challenge to its chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is insisting that no one, even a former president, can be above the law, particularly when it comes to the effort to lay this country's apartheid past to rest by setting the record straight, forgiving the perpetrators in return for their confessions, and paying reparation to the victims.
Mandela, in a television interview marking his retirement as president of the ruling African National Congress -- he remains state president until the next general election in 1999 -- said he had spoken to Botha twice about his refusal to testify.
"It is necessary to try to defuse this situation," he said. "But our determination to do so cannot go so far as to allow people to defy the law. I have done my duty, and I can assure you that P. W. Botha is not above the law and I will never allow him to defy the TRC.
"I have urged his family to help and prevent his humiliation. But if he continues along this line, then the law must take its course. There is no question about that."
Reviewing his term as ANC president, Mandela noted that virtually all of his Cabinet ministers were appointed without experience or training in government.
"In all fairness, and in all humility, I think we have done far more than many people expected," he said, noting that 1.7 million households have been connected to water mains since his 1994 election, and 1,000 households a day were being linked to the electricity grid.
"When you think of the fact that we have been dealing with thousands of problems which have been there for over three centuries, what we have achieved is a near miracle," he asserted.
Mandela said a merger between the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party -- the country's largest black political organizations, which have been feuding for years -- would be " a very progressive development" and a "first step" toward national unity.
"It is not a question of black unity. It is a question of the unity of the entire country, and that would be the guiding principle," said Mandela in the televised interview with five journalists.
"We would like to form a relationship with other political parties where we would be able to speak with one voice in addressing major national issues in this country," he said, discounting the notion that this might lead to creation of another one-party African state posing as a democracy.
"Democracy does not mean a hundred political parties," Mandela said. "It means problems must be looked at from a holistic approach. When the leadership of an organization surrounds itself with powerful and independent people who can criticize even the president of that organization without fear, then you have democracy, real and functioning."
Pub Date: 12/15/97