Basson: I received orders from 120 bosses
Pretoria - Apartheid-era chemical warfare expert Wouter Basson had no reason to believe that he was taking part in a criminal operation when he supplied the police and security forces with substances for across-border snatch operations, he told a professional conduct committee on Wednesday.
The Cape Town cardiologist, who is facing charges of unethical and unprofessional conduct before the Health Professions Council, said he had acted as a special forces soldier and not a medical doctor when he attended meetings at which the supply of the substances were discussed.
"There's a senior police general who makes an official request...I'm there as a citizen of the country... He comes with the sanction of the government. As far as we were concerned as soldiers it was perfectly legitimate.
"...I was a 33-year-old Lieutenant Colonel in the defence force. I accepted it was bona fide and correct. I had no reason to think it was not legitimate."
He denied that he had attended the meetings as a military doctor or that he was specifically appointed as project leader of the defence force's chemical warfare programme (Project Coast) because of his medical skills and knowledge.
He also denied that the substances he provided had ever been used in the form of an injection, saying if one could get close enough to inject someone, one might as well have gagged and bound him up before bringing him back.
The operatives were not stupid and it was up to them to decide how to use the substances.
He denied using his medical training to study the effect of such substances and said it was tested by veterinary surgeons at the University of Pretoria.
"That was highly sophisticated chemistry. It's not possible for a doctor or even a pharmacologist to synthesise those chemicals," he said.
Salie Joubert, for the pro forma complainant, put it to Basson that he had a medical and a master's degree and knew one could go across the border to kidnap someone.
He also put it to Basson that the reason why the project was under the leadership of the surgeon general was because of his medical knowledge of physiology and chemistry.
Basson replied that he had no involvement as a medical doctor.
He earlier admitted that he had maintained his registration as a medical doctor throughout his period as project leader, but said he had not practised as a doctor in that period.
Basson denied that the teargas supplied to Unita leader Jonas Savimbi and the police had any harmful or lasting effects.
He said there was no scientific basis for a medical journal article which mentioned blistering skin burns, severe toxic injuries, lung damage and heart failure as some of the possible side-effects.
He said they had gone to great trouble to develop smoke that did not cause lung damage.
"...It was tested in high doses and caused no harm to primates," he said.
He admitted that the effect could make a person "want to go home and die", but said it had no permanent or long-term effects and merely broke the cohesion of a crowd when used in unrest situations.
Basson testified that the project had tested substances such as cocaine and Mandrax on a large scale with the idea to weaponise it for crowd control.
He said large number of derivatives were produced and would likely have been placed in hand grenades, but the project never went that far.
According to Basson, the project had supplied the police with hundreds of thousand of "blank" or fake Mandrax tablets which looked like the real thing so that they could infiltrate a Mandrax smuggling network.
"...I was a soldier and part-time policeman. I received orders from 120 bosses...
"Certainly some of the Coast technology was used, but the purpose had nothing to do with Coast," he said.
A lengthy legal battle earlier in the morning about Joubert's allegations that Basson and the defence force had waged a "chemical war" on the South African population ended rather undramatically when the committee ruled that it was a matter for legal argument.
Basson's advocate Jaap Cilliers at one stage said he thought he was "from a different planet" than Joubert.
He said what Joubert was suggesting was that Basson waged a chemical war because he was involved in the manufacture of teargas.
"...We've seen teargas being used to control riots over the past few days. Is he [Joubert] suggesting that he can now put it to the present government that they're waging chemical war against the population because they used teargas? It's totally ridiculous," he said.
The hearing continues.