Is Wouter Basson SA’s only ‘Dr Death’?

2013-12-22 06:00

Wouter Basson is likely to be the only doctor the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) will ever prosecute on charges of unprofessional conduct during the apartheid era.

The council made history this week when Basson, a cardiologist, was convicted. He is due to hear his fate on February 20 and he may lose his licence to practice.

A number of health professionals acted unethically during the apartheid era.

Many confessed and asked for amnesty during the health sector hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in June 1997 and, as a result, no complaints were lodged against them with the HPCSA.

But Basson chose not to come forward as he believed he had done nothing wrong.

Dr Marjorie Jobson, national director of the Khulumani Support Group, believes there are likely many healthcare practitioners who served under the apartheid regime who opted not to take advantage of the TRC amnesty because they have the same mentality as Basson.

“There is no doubt that many health professionals acted unethically during the apartheid era in one way or another, but never participated in the health sector hearings.”

The difficulty with bringing them to book today, she said, “is that there is not enough evidence to secure convictions in a criminal trial or even with the HPCSA”.

HPCSA registrar Buyiswa Mjamba-Matshoba agreed, but said: “That should not stop people from lodging complaints with us.

“We managed to find him [Basson] guilty of crimes he committed against the profession decades ago. We can still do it with another health professional,” she said.

Basson was found guilty on Wednesday on four charges of unprofessional conduct relating to the role he played as project officer of Project Coast, a chemical and biological warfare unit within the South African Defence Force (SADF). The unit manufactured and provided chemical substances to the then SADF for use in combat, kidnapping and suicide missions.

His role was to coordinate the production of drugs, toxic tear gas and disorientation chemicals. He also supplied deadly cyanide capsules to army commanders to distribute to members of Special Forces to use to commit suicide if they got caught on a mission.

Throughout his hearing at the HPCSA, which began in November 2007, Basson maintained his innocence. While he admitted that he had coordinated production and supplied chemical substances, he justified his actions by saying that he did it as a soldier, not a doctor, and therefore did not act unethically.

Even on Wednesday after the HPCSA found him guilty of unprofessional conduct, he still maintained during a radio interview on Talk Radio 702 that he did not do anything wrong.

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