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Ex-Apartheid Chief Appears in Court

January 23, 1998

GEORGE, South Africa (AP) _ South Africa’s last hard-line apartheid leader, former President P.W. Botha, appeared before a black judge today on charges of defying the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

After a short session, the case was postponed until Feb. 23, when Botha will issue a plea to allegations he refused to testify before the commission investigating apartheid-era political crimes.

Dressed in a dark suit and walking with the aid of a wooden stick, Botha, 82, was accompanied by fiancee Reinette Te Water Naude and members of his family.

Known as the ``Big Crocodile″ for his bullying and sometimes ruthless manner, Botha’s appearance before Judge Victor Lugajo reflected change in South Africa since the nation’s first all-race election in 1994.

Botha fought against equal rights for blacks throughout his political career, but now is having his case handled by a black judge.

Signs of the old South Africa were evident outside the courthouse in George, a coastal town 240 miles east of Cape Town near where Botha lives in retirement.

Police constructed a wall of razor-wire seven feet high around the building, and a few dozen police officers kept an eye on about 200 black demonstrators gathered on a grassy area across the street.

The protest, organized by the governing African National Congress, was to show Botha that blacks want the truth from the man who led the country during the most violent phase of the anti-apartheid struggle.

``He must understand the deep-seated anger and hatred that is instilled in our people due to his policies,″ said Ismail Lavangee, 35, an ANC official.

On the other side of the courthouse, two blocks from the ANC protesters, about 20 Botha supporters gathered to show solidarity with the man who led South Africa for 11 years until his ouster after suffering a stroke in 1989. Botha is a symbol of resistance for Afrikaners, Dutch-descended white settlers.

``We still regard P.W. as a leader of the Afrikaner people,″ said Hannes Meyer, carrying the old white, orange and blue South African flag of the apartheid era. Meyer earlier had to give up his pistol to police.

The Truth Commission had issued a subpoena ordering Botha to answer questions about the State Security Council he headed in the 1980s. The council planned the government crackdown on anti-apartheid groups.

Botha ignored the subpoena and is charged with contempt. If convicted, he could be sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay a fine. Because of his failing health, a fine is considered the most likely penalty for conviction. There is no limit on the fine.

After supplying the commission with more than 1,700 pages of written answers last year, Botha says he has nothing more to add and claims commissioners just want to humiliate him by forcing him to appear in public.

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