‘Doctor Death’ and team walk out of HPCSA hearing

Former head of the apartheid government’s biological warfare programme, Wouter Basson, walked out of his sentencing hearing at the Health Professions Council (HPCSA) this morning to file papers at the high court in Pretoria, along with his legal team. 

The papers are an urgent interdict that would force the members of the professional conduct committee that would eventually sentence Basson to reveal any professional affiliations that potentially reveal a bias against the man known as “Doctor Death”. 

In December 2013, Basson was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the HPCSA for acting unethically as a medical doctor during his time as the head of “Project Coast” and later “Delta G” in the 1980s. The activities that led to him being found guilty include the mass production of mandrax, ecstasy and the weaponising of teargas. 

Basson’s legal team is presenting mitigating evidence this week for his sentencing.  

Hearings in mitigation of sentencing started in December last year where the head of the activist organisation Section27, Mark Heywood, presented a petition signed by health and human rights organisations calling for Basson’s name to be removed from the health professions register.

Basson’s lawyer, Jaap Cilliers, called into question committee chairperson Jannie Hugo’s impartiality in the matter, as he’s a member of the South African Medical Association, which signed the petition.  

“We have received some information since the previous sitting that you are in fact a member of one of the organisations that signed the petition agitating for the removal of Dr Wouter Basson from the roll,” said Cilliers.

Cilliers requested that the hearings be put on hold until Hugo had fully disclosed whether he is a member of any of the other organisations that signed the petition. He also asked that all other committee members declare their affiliations.

This request was refused and Cilliers and his client left the hearing, heading to the high court to apply for an interdict to “force you [Hugo] to provide us with the necessary information and, secondly, for an order to prohibit you to proceed with these proceedings until we have the opportunity to take proper instructions after receiving the necessary information”.

Despite the dramatic start, the sentencing hearings continued with the pro forma complainant, the representative of the doctors who originally laid a complaint against Basson, calling University of Cape Town internal medicine professor Marc Blockman, who presented arguments as to why Basson should be scrapped from the medical roll.

Since the early 2000s, Basson has been running a successful cardiology practice in Durbanville, Cape Town. If the tribunal finds him guilty of unethical behaviour, he will be barred from practicing medicine in South Africa.

Basson’s legal teams have in the past succeeded with strategies that have helped to cause this hearing to drag on for 15 years after a complaint was filed against them in 2000.

On Monday afternoon the hearings were postponed until Tuesday morning.

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Ina Skosana
Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian’s centre for health journalism, from 2013 to 2017.

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