Legal wrangle delays Basson hearing
Pretoria - The professional conduct hearing of cardiologist Dr Wouter Basson was delayed on Tuesday by a legal wrangle about a statement that the SA Defence Force (SADF) had used "chemical weapons" on South Africans.
Advocate Jaap Cilliers, for Basson, argued before the Health Professions Council of SA that these "unfounded accusations" by pro forma complainant Salie Joubert had caused "very serious repercussions" during the course of the night.
He said Joubert had put it as a fact to Basson during cross-examination on Tuesday that the SADF had waged a chemical war against the population of South Africa.
The SADF existed until 1994 when it was replaced by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) after South Africa's first democratic election. The SANDF incorporated personnel from the SADF, the homeland forces and the armed wings of political parties.
"That's by far not an allegation in the charge sheet or in the facts before the committee. The fact is that the SANDF themselves are gravely concerned about totally unfounded allegations like these," Cilliers said.
He said information had been posted overnight on microblogging site Twitter, with Basson as the purported author. In them "he" explained how he and the SADF had waged chemical war against South Africans.
"We hold the view that he [Joubert] should put on record that he doesn't have a factual basis for the allegation. He refuses to do so.
"General [Niel] Knobel, the previous Surgeon General, is gravely concerned about this as well," he said.
Cilliers said Knobel was getting legal advice because he was getting "very uncomfortable" about the "completely untrue and unfounded statements" made by Joubert, which he refused to withdraw.
He accused Joubert of acting unprofessionally and of trying to create atmosphere by, for example, bringing up Basson's attitude towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Basson had described as "an improper process".
Joubert refused to withdraw his statement, saying the question had been based on what Basson had said in his plea explanation, namely that the substances manufactured under Project Coast (the SADF's chemical and biological warfare programme led by Basson) had never been used in a war.
He said Basson had brought up the issue that the SADF had supplied teargas to the police for riot control.
"I put it to him and he came up with the answer that whether it's a physical or chemical attack, you're entitled to use these substances... I was asked to withdraw that statement, but I based it on what Dr Basson testified," he said.
On Tuesday, Basson admitted that in the 1980s the SADF supplied Israeli mortars, armed with teargas canisters made from Brazilian steel and Chinese fuses, to Angolan rebel movement leader Jonas Savimbi.
However, he denied that this had anything to do with the teargas supplied to the police for riot control.
The dispute was thereafter briefly discussed behind closed doors. The hearing was then adjourned for several hours.