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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

S. Africa Leader Botha Dies

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- South Africa's last hard-line white president, P.W. Botha, was remembered Wednesday by his most famous prisoner as a "symbol of apartheid" who nonetheless helped pave the way toward multi-racial democracy.

"The passing of Mr. Botha should serve to remind us not only of our horribly divided past, but also of how South Africans from all persuasions ultimately came together to save our country from self-destruction," anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela said.

Botha, who led the country for more than a decade through its deepest international isolation and some of the worst repression of the black majority, died late Tuesday at the age of 90.

His second wife, Barbara, said he would be buried at a private funeral next Wednesday as he did not want a state ceremony. Botha had four children.

Tributes poured in for the man known as the "Old Crocodile" because of his feared temper and ruthlessness. Even those -- like Mandela -- who suffered under Botha were magnanimous.

"While to many Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way toward the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country," Mandela said in a statement.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said Botha had led the country "at a difficult time."

"It stands to his credit that when he realized the futility of fighting against what was right and inevitable, he, in his own way, realized that South Africans had no alternative but to reach out to one another," he said.

Mbeki ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff until the funeral, said presidential aide the Reverend Frank Chikane. He said the government had been ready to accord Botha a full state funeral, but respected the wishes of the family. Chikane rushed to Botha's house in the southern coastal resort of Wilderness to pay the government's condolences. The gesture was poignant given that the former head of the South African Council of Churches narrowly escaped death in 1989 when his clothes were laced with pesticides by the apartheid regime.