Wouter Basson denies unprofessional conduct

While he might have been part of the apartheid government’s secret chemical and biological warfare programme, he did not act unprofessionally, Wouter Basson said on Monday.

Basson pleaded not guilty to six charges brought against him at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

The charges brought by some of his peers relate to Basson’s time as head of the apartheid government’s chemical and biological warfare project.

If he is found to have acted unprofessionally he could lose his licence to practise medicine.

On Monday Basson admitted in a written plea explanation that he was involved in and coordinated research for Project Coast, but said he never crossed the ethical boundaries of his profession.

”The accused denies that any unlawful conduct of any nature and or research or conduct contrary to any relevant convention or rule of the relevant national or international authorities was ever pursued or executed in the project,” he stated in his written explanation.

The six charges included that he performed tests in absence of any approved medical research guidelines; that he manufactured incapacitating drugs and gases; and that he made available cyanide capsules to specialised units for use in suicide.

Also included in the charges is that he ”weaponised” mortars by filling them with tear gas and provided disorientation substances for over-the-border kidnapping exercises.

Basson admitted that certain substance were manufactured, including Mandrax, ecstasy, incapacitating agents and tear gas. He also admitted that certain of these substances were used to test the reaction of the Special Forces troops of the then-South African Defence Force (SADF).

”All these drugs were manufactured for research purposes and were never utilised in a war situation or at all, apart for the CR tear gas that was provided to [Unita leader Jonas] Savimbi,” the statement said.

Some of the disorientating substances were also tested by the police on the police special task force under the supervision of General Lothar Neethling, tests which Basson witnessed.

Basson also admitted that he provided disorientation substances for over-the-border kidnapping and cyanide capsules to the operation commander of the Special Forces for suicide.

Notwithstanding this, Basson said, he was not acting unprofessionally. He said he was acting within the law and with the express permission of the government at the time.

He also contended that he did not transgress any rules of the Medical and Dental Council of South Africa, the predecessor of the HPCSA.

”From the outset it was the express instruction and philosophy of Project Coast that no research and/or agents manufactured in the projects would ever be utilised for any other purpose than to establish a defensive capability for the SADF in the field,” Basson said in his written plea explanation.

”It must be understood that in the research for establishing a defensive capability, certain lethal agents had to be manufactured in the project for purposes of testing defensive equipment and for properly understanding dangers and possible utilisation of such lethal agents against SADF troops and/or the population by an unscrupulous enemy and of fanatical groups or individuals,” the statement said.

Arguing on behalf of the prosecution, Professor Solomon Benatar, an expert on ethics, said Basson’s actions did not fit the description of the duties and responsibilities of a medical professional.

He said it was not the role of a doctor to judge people and be associated with one side or another.

”You are not there to judge, but apply your skills to help them,” he said.

He argued that while Basson’s actions were not necessarily illegal it was not ethical for him as a medical practitioner to be involved in this activity.

”He should not have taken on the job. There are limits to what a professional can take on,” he said.

Benatar, cross-examined by Cilliers, maintained that Basson was guilty of professional misconduct

”I want him to reflect and say that while I have done many things right, some mistakes were made, and see if he has some remorse or concerns about them,” he said. — Sapa

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