Basson sentencing off to a rocky start

The first day of the sentencing hearing of Wouter Basson got off to a rocky start on Wednesday. 

The pro forma complainants, that represent the doctors who originally laid a complaint against Basson, called on executive director of the activist organisation Section27, Mark Heywood, to present petitions signed by health professionals, and health and human rights organisations motivating for Basson be struck off the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s [HPCSA] register. 

In December 2013 Basson, who is a private cardiologist, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct for acting unethically as a medical doctor during his time as head of the apartheid-era chemical and biological programme. 

The Professional Conduct Committee of the HPCSA found Basson guilty on four charges which include providing “disorientation substances for over the border kidnapping exercises, where substances were used too tranquilise the person to be kidnapped” and making cyanide capsules available “for distribution to members of specialised units for suicidal usage”.    

Heywood’s testimony was repeatedly interrupted by Basson’s lawyer, Jaap Cilliers, who had initially called for the proceedings to be postponed because the defence had only received the documents presented on the same day. 

“They [pro forma complainant] didn’t inform us of what they intend to do and which witnesses they intend to call until just prior to the start of the proceedings,” said Cilliers.

However the Council elected to let Heywood continue with his testimony. According to the petitions the signatories wanted Basson struck off the roll because of the “seriousness of the offences for which he has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the HPCSA”, the “irreparable harm caused by the offences he admitted” and to “protect trust in the profession”.

Things got tense when Cilliers once again interrupted Heywood asking if “this was a public relations exercise” in reference to Heywood’s presentation about the work of Section27. 

Cilliers further went on to ask “What’s the relevance of this nonsense?”

Shortly thereafter Heywood stopped his testimony because “this senior council [Cilliers] is intimidating and causing some disturbance”. The sentencing hearing continues on Thursday when Cilliers will cross examine Heywood, and more witnesses will be called to the stand.

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