Suffice it to say that longtime South African foreign minister Roelof “Pik” Botha, who died on Oct. 12 at age 86, danced to the beat of his own drummer.
The Economist noted in his obituary that he liked to liven up governmental retreats by throwing live ammunition into campfires, and that he was also known to eat roses at stuffy dinner parties.
So there’s that.
And when it came to the far weightier matter of apartheid, he was not averse to bucking long-held norms. He would defend the racist policy during his extended governmental career, while at the same time acknowledging that change was inevitable.
According to the New York Times, Botha made clear his stance on apartheid well before he began his long stint as foreign minister (1977-94), urging that the government subscribe to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1970 and saying four years later that discrimination on the basis of skin color was indefensible.
Then, in 1986, he told reporters it would “possibly become unavoidable that in the future you might have a black president of this country” — remarks that the president at the time, P.W. Botha (no relation), forced him to retract.
Pik Botha’s time as foreign minister ended with South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, and he would then serve for two years as minister of minerals and energy under Nelson Mandela.
“Black and white in this country need each other to succeed,” Botha told the BBC in 2013, the year Mandela died.
According to The Guardian, his nickname was an abbreviation of pikkewyn, the Afrikaans word for penguin. The moniker was first affixed to him because of the proud pose he struck when he donned his first suit as a youngster — and it stuck.
That would suggest a certain impishness, something it appears he never lost.
But neither did he ever lose his desire to dance to the beat of his own drummer. And that made all the difference.