Chikane has collapsed four times in recent weeks while travelling in Namibia and the US, and has been admitted to hospital each time. On one occasion, he stopped breathing and had to be put on a respirator. His most recent collapse forced him to miss a meeting two weeks ago with US President George Bush. A medical investigation at the University of Wisconsin Medical School has pointed to a commonly-available insecticide, which has a similar effect on the human body to nerve gas.
It is believed Chikane absorbed this poison through his skin from the clothes in his baggage. He said in a statement last night that he did not know if the poison had been deliberately applied to his clothes. The first attack was on April 23, when Chikane was travelling to Namibia to see Martti Ahtisaari, the United Nations representative in Namibia. “I started to vomit and was showing signs of weakness,” he said in a statement issued in Wisconsin last night. The next attack came when he travelled to the US to see Bush and others. He fell seriously ill and was taken to St Mary’s Hospital. He was later transferred to Wisconsin. “At the time he experienced nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and respiratory distress,” according to Professor Daniel J Smith, who treated him in Wisconsin.
Chikane stopped breathing and he had to be put on an artificial respiratory system. He was treated for inflammation of the pancreas and recovered rapidly after a week in hospital. But barely a day after being discharged on May 20, he was readmitted, suffering from weakness of the muscles and repeated vomiting. “I felt nauseous, I started salivating and vomited. My body started shaking and twitching. My eyes became watery and my vision was blurred. “I could hardly walk or turn my body when in a sleeping position. All this followed hyperventilation.” He recovered and was released after a week. Forty-eight hours later Chikane was again hospitalised at the university hospital, and again recovered rapidly. “In all the four episodes, the symptoms and experiences were almost identical, although they differed in their degree of severity,” he said. He was extensively evaluated during this admission.
According to Professor Smith, this revealed “that except during the acute illness, the Reverend Chikane is in excellent physical health”. Chikane was also greatly surprised by the sudden change in his state of health. According to experts, pancreatis is a condition that can recur but it often does not recur at such short intervals. The possibility of poisoning was considered. In the words of his medical report, “the clinical syndrome and metabolic ‘ abnormalities … were all consistent with exposure to an organophosphate anticholinesterase or pharmacologically similar compound.” Further tests are under way to con¬ firm this diagnosis.
Chikane said last night that an investigation of how he came to be poi¬soned left his travelling baggage “as the only common denominator of all the episodes”. He then minimised his contact with his baggage, “and the cycle was broken”. This also explained why there had been two weeks between the first and the next incident – Chikane had been on retreat in that period and had used other clothes. Chikane does not know whether the poisoning was deliberate or accidental. “I must say we do not know and that it falls out of the scope of the investigation of Dr Smith and his team. “I believe that it will be to every one’s interest that this matter be thor¬oughly investigated back at home to clear up any uncertainties, suspicions and even speculations.”
According to experts in Johannesburg, the insecticide named by Chikane’s US doctor interferes with those parts of the nervous system that control sweating, heartbeat, the dilation of eye pupils, respiratory functions and sweat glands. If one is exposed to the chemical, certain parts of the nervous system become hyperactive, resulting in the malfunctioning of a number of organs. There have been numerous attacks on the family and property of the soft-spoken theologian.
Last year, a hand grenade was found in the post box of his mother, Ereiah Chikane, at her home in Tladi. Police were called, but took two and-a-half hours to respond. “It is clear that the intention was to maim or 1 kill her,” Chikane said at the time.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.