Chemical weapons were used in Angola: witness

16 July 2013 - 16:11
By Sapa
A poison symbol. File picture
Image: Supplied A poison symbol. File picture

Chemical weapons were used against Unita rebels during the war in Angola, the Health Professions' Council of SA (HPCSA) was told.

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

Salie Joubert SC, representing the HPCSA, asked witness Dr Niel Knobel, a former SA Defence Force surgeon general, whether it was his testimony that chemical weapons were used against Unita forces in Angola.

"Based on our own reports, although I was not personally involved in some of those incidents, South African troops who were deployed with Unita were often called to come forward to come and give assistance to members of Unita that were exposed to some or other chemical substance," said Knobel.

"The evidence that we have from the reports given by generals and commanding officers of that operation, all of them reported that there were bombs released by fighters, a lot of smoke was coming down and it affected a lot of the troops," he said.

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 Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

He 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.

During cross-examination on Tuesday, Joubert asked Knobel about details of meetings he had with former president Nelson Mandela when he was still in office.

Knobel refused and said the meetings were confidential.

"Mr Joubert is starting to question me on meetings I had with Mr Mandela, which I am not at liberty to discuss," he said.

However, Knobel confirmed that Mandela had rejected calls by the UK and the US to prevent Basson from travelling abroad.

In 2002, Basson was acquitted by the High Court in Pretoria 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.

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 legal team 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.