P. W. Botha , in full Pieter Willem Botha (born Jan. 12, 1916, Paul Roux, S.Af.—died Oct. 31, 2006, Wilderness, near George), prime minister (1978–84) and first state president (1984–89) of South Africa.
A native of the Orange Free State, he studied law at the University of Orange Free State at Bloemfontein from 1932 to 1935 but left without graduating. Already active in politics in his teens, he moved to Cape Province at age 20 to become a full-time organizer for the National Party. He was elected to Parliament in the National landslide of 1948. By 1958 he was deputy minister of the interior, and thereafter (1961–80) he was successively minister of commercial development, Coloured affairs, public works, and defense. He succeeded to the prime ministry upon the resignation of B.J. Vorster in 1978.
Botha’s government faced serious foreign and domestic difficulties. The coming to power of black governments in Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe gave new energy to black South African nationalists and the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO). Other developments led to frequent black student and labour unrest in South Africa itself, especially in 1980. Botha responded with a military policy that included frequent South African raids combined with support for antigovernment groups in the border states, seeking to weaken the Angolan, Mozambican, and Zimbabwean governments. Botha also refused to withdraw from Namibia, though he continued negotiations on the question.
He combined this foreign policy with a program of reforms at home—such as the policy of granting “independence” to various black homelands—that were meant at once to mollify international public opinion while dividing his nonwhite domestic opposition. A key point in this program was the promulgation of a new constitution, which granted very limited powers to Asians and Coloureds but which made no concessions to the black majority. Though the proposed reforms maintained white supremacy, to which Botha was fully committed, the right wing of the