Pieter Willem Botha died today at the age of 90. First elected to South Africa’s parliament in 1948 as a member of the ruling National Party, Botha went on to become prime minister in 1978 and president in 1984.

After gaining power in the all-white 1948 election, the National Party followed through on its campaign promise to institute an apartheid system. Many South African political events that captured the attention of the world took place during Botha’s terms in office.

For example, nearly exactly fifty years ago on December 5, 1956, a large group of South African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were rounded up and charged with high treason in the form of a communist-terrorist conspiracy. Of the 156 defendants, 23 were white; according to Wikipedia, more than half of these whites were Jewish. While all of the defendants were acquitted in 1961, some were later convicted in the 1963 Rivonia Trial. All of the white defendants initially named at Rivonia were Jewish.

White Jews thus had a double-edged identity in South Africa, as they did in so many other places. “Jews were active on all sides of the apartheid struggle,” Jay Sand tells us, “some in support of racial separation, others (like noted activists Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils, Albie Sachs) standing with Nelson Mandela.”