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Peter Willem ("P.W.") Botha dropped out of college to become a full-time organizer for South Africa's far-right National Party at age 20. Elected to parliament at the age of 32, he cycled through several ministerial positions in national government.
Botha's terms as prime minister (1978-84) and president (1984-89) were marked by upheaval and violence at home and abroad, as leftist black governments rose to power in neighboring African nations, global opposition to apartheid grew, and African student and labor unrest under apartheid increased.
Tactically, Botha used his police and military forces to quiet dissent domestically and in neighboring states. Politically, Botha attempted to walk some middle ground between pro- and anti-apartheid factions, sometimes veering wildly between the two but satisfying neither.
Nicknamed the "Groot Krokodil" ("great crocodile"), Botha resigned as party leader after a stroke in 1989, but refused to give up the presidency until members of his own cabinet turned on him. Before leaving office, he met with Nelson Mandela in prison but declined to release him.
Botha refused to appear before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with examining crimes of the apartheid era, maintaining that he did not authorize the killings, tortures and disappearances that took place during his regime. He died in 2006. [from pbs.org]