Pieter Willem (PW) Botha was born on the farm Telegraaf in the Paul Roux district of the Free State on 12 January 1916. After matriculating in Bethlehem, he registered for a law degree at the Grey University College (today the University of the Orange Free State). During this period he was also a part-time reporter for Die Volksblad newspaper and a member of the Afrikaanse Nasionale Studentebond (Afrikaans national student union).
He became increasingly politically active on campus, such as assisting with organising National Party (NP) by-election campaigns, and also became the party’s campus branch chairman. This led to a decision to interrupt his studies to pursue a career in politics on a fulltime basis.
When prime minister DF Malan visited the campus in 1936, Botha, who was 20 at the time, delivered an address to Malan that impressed the statesman so much that he offered him a post as political organiser in the Cape Province. In 1946 he was promoted to union information officer of the organisation. Botha would later resume his studies via correspondence.
After making himself available as a candidate for the NP in 1948, Botha’s first position in the national parliament was as an MP for the party’s George constituency. Ten years later, in October 1958, he was appointed as deputy minister of internal affairs and held the office for three years.
When South Africa became a Republic on 31 May 1961, Botha was offered the position of minister of community development and Coloured affairs by then prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. The following decade saw him at the helm of four more departments, with the last being minister of defence from 1966.
When prime minister BJ Vorster resigned in 1978, Botha won the subsequent election as Vorster’s successor. After amendments were made to the South African Constitution in 1984, he was also inaugurated as the country’s first executive state president. He held this position until 1989. During his tenure, he visited several western European capitals in an official capacity, making him the first South African head of state to do so in several decades.
Botha served as chancellor of Stellenbosch University from 1985 to 1988. On 31 October 2006, he passed away at the age of 90 at Die Anker, his house near Wilderness in the Western Cape.