Look at me through 1980s glasses - Basson

2012-03-26 22:56
Pretoria - Cardiologist Wouter Basson testified before the Health Professions Council of SA on Monday that his involvement in South Africa's chemical and biological warfare programmes was aimed at saving lives.

"The guidelines were given by the surgeon general, who was a medical doctor of international standing and who advised several governments in other countries," he said.

"As a medical doctor I could live with the idea that I was preventing injuries and death through my involvement in developing the substances."

Basson faces four charges of unprofessional and unethical conduct.

The charges relate to his conduct as a medical doctor when he headed the country's chemical and biological warfare research programme for the defence force in the 1980s and early 1990s during the apartheid era.

He testified that the surgeon general and chief of the defence force had approached him in the early 1980s to develop a system to protect the country against chemical and biological warfare.

It was assumed at that time that the Cubans, backed by Russian and German advisers, were using chemical weapons in the war in Angola.

Basson said he was put in charge of planning the chemical warfare project, which eventually resulted in the formation of the top secret facility known as Delta G.

Although he gave guidelines to the scientists at Delta G, he said he did not have an office at the facility and visited it only "clandestinely" a few times at night.

He also received instructions from the surgeon general to meet with the head of the police's forensic services, because the police needed a "humane way" to control crowds.

Shocked to the core

Basson said the council needed to look at his decisions "with 1980s glasses" and in the context of the times.

"At those meetings [with the police] I was exposed to video footage of violence that shocked me to the core," he said.

"Few people today remember that violence. For good reasons we gloss over it, but it was the type of violence that even caused Archbishop Desmond Tutu to say 'if it does not stop, I'll leave the country'.

"My recollection is that I felt I could make a difference... I could stop that senseless violence and damage to property by breaking the cohesion of the crowd that is involved," he said.

Basson also showed a video clip to the council of a man being stoned and set alight by a crowd.

"This is what was shown to me and what I experienced. The police told me they could not control such situations... I decided to participate in the development of incapacitating substances to control crowds," he said.

"Seeing those videos again gave me the same feeling of stress and heart palpitations. We're looking at a crowd that is totally oblivious - children were involved. It was like a Sunday picnic."

He said the weapons never advanced to the pre-production level and that the substances were never used on the ground.

However, he did admit that mortars loaded with tear gas were supplied to rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola, but said the aim was not to kill anyone, just to incapacitate them.

"I used very little, if any, of my medical training, but I could use my training in ethics, namely the respect for life. I could see to it that the guidelines of the project were properly drawn up," he said.

Basson admitted supplying "suicide" cyanide capsules to the special forces commander at the time, but said it was up to the commander to decide how to supply them to his operatives and for the operatives to make informed decisions on when to use them.

The hearing continues.

Read more on:    hpcsa  |  wouter basson

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