Ailing President Pieter W. Botha was almost totally isolated today as the ruling National Party sought ways to force him out of office and install heir-apparent F. W. de Klerk.
Party sources said Botha’s only remaining support was from acting President Chris Heunis and a group of advisers who had shielded him from the depth of the opposition to his rule.
Botha, 73, was told in an hourlong meeting with National Party leaders Thursday that fewer than a dozen of the party’s 133 members of Parliament want him to resume office after a stroke Jan. 18.
In response, Botha released the text of a letter to Heunis saying he would return to work next Wednesday.
Parliamentary sources said members of the National Party, which has ruled South Africa for more than 40 years, were in a quandary about how to get rid of Botha.
“There can only be one outcome to this battle,” Johannesburg’s Business Day said in an editorial. “President Botha will depart, voluntarily or under increasing duress.”
Party sources said Heunis was the only Cabinet minister to support Botha in the two-hour National Party caucus meeting that resulted in a call for his retirement as soon as possible.
Today, Cape Town’s influential and traditionally loyal Die Burger became the last of the pro-government newspapers to turn against Botha, leaving him apparently without a platform.
Under a banner headline saying “Caucus Impatient,” the newspaper reported that Nationalist members were angry and disappointed at Botha’s apparent intention to cling to power.
“The symbolic importance of the Burger’s report should not be underestimated,” said Stellenbosch University Prof. Willie Breytenbach. “Now that it has turned against Mr. Botha he is totally isolated. I think he will want to think very, very hard this weekend about his future.”