/ 17 July 2013

Basson hearing: Witness won’t talk about Mandela

Wouter Basson.
Wouter Basson.

Dr Niel Knobel told Wouter Basson's unethical conduct hearing at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) on Wednesday there was information he could not disclose as it was top secret.

"I may not refer to documents that are top secret and that could jeopardise South Africa's position internationally, as well as compromise … Mandela.

"Please understand my position as an officer who retains my ranks until the day I die and my commission stands. I am not going to jeopardise and I'm certainly not going to make any remarks about [former] president Mandela," Knobel said.

The council's professional conduct committee is holding a hearing into allegations of unethical conduct against Basson, a Cape Town cardiologist.

Earlier, Knobel said he had meetings with Mandela and noted there was a lot of interest among the South African Defence Force (SADF) members when he returned from the meetings, wanting to know what they had discussed.

An affidavit made by Knobel during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings was presented before the committee.

The affidavit is a statement regarding the chronology of events around the SADF's chemical and biological weapons programme, with special reference to Basson's role.

Cross-border kidnappings
Knobel argued that he could not give evidence on the affidavit as some of the appendices which were supposed to be attached to it were not available.

The charges against Basson arise from his involvement in the apartheid government's chemical and biological warfare programme in the 1980s and early 1990s.

He is accused of acting unethically by being involved in the large-scale production of Mandrax, cocaine and teargas, of weaponising teargas, and of supplying it to Angola's Unita rebels leader Jonas Savimbi.

Basson is also accused of acting unethically by providing disorientating substances for cross-border kidnappings, and making cyanide capsules available for distribution to operatives for use in committing suicide.

In 2002, Basson was acquitted by the North Gauteng High Court of criminal charges arising from his conduct.

The HPCSA reviewed the judgment to establish if there were grounds to continue with an inquiry against him.

The state appealed the high court decision in the Supreme Court of Appeal, but the appeal was dismissed. The state then went to the Constitutional Court to appeal the decision. That was also dismissed in September 2005.

Unlawful and biased
In 2006, the HPCSA started its own process of investigating Basson's conduct. A charge sheet was drawn up and the inquiry began in November 2007.

However, the inquiry was delayed when the HPCSA's main expert witness fell ill. The inquiry resumed again in September 2008.

During the November 2008 hearing, Basson's lawyers argued that the case brought against him was unlawful and biased.

Basson's legal team then went to the High Court in Pretoria to stop the inquiry. The matter was heard in the high court in 2010. The court dismissed Basson's application in May 2010. The next month, Basson appealed the decision in the same court, but lost.

The hearing then resumed officially in September 2011. In January 2012, Basson brought another application before the HPCSA's professional conduct committee to dismiss the matter. However, this application was also dismissed.

The hearing continues on Thursday.