Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Apartheid: Biological and Chemical Warfare Program

Unwelcome Scrutiny

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
In mid-1993 to 1994 South Africa was in the midst of a new era and began a historical transition from white Afrikaans pro-apartheid government to black majority ANC rule. This followed after a yearlong peace negotiation between the two regimes for national unity. In April 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africas new president, an event that would greatly change Dr. Bassons fate.

In 1995, at the urging of the U.S. and U.K. governments, Basson was re-employed by the ANC government as a defense force surgeon. The U.S. and U.K. believed that Mandela would have better control over Bassons activities if he remained under the watchful eye and employment of the South African government. According to an article by Desmond Bolw, Basson was rehired because it was feared that he would give up sensitive governmental secrets, especially those concerning worldwide terrorist organizations connected with South Africa. Moreover, it was also feared that Basson might reveal highly secretive information concerning other countries CBW programs and their working relationship with South Africas apartheid regime.

South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 1995 to investigate crimes related to the apartheid era government and the ANC, began an exploration of the SADFs chemical and biological warfare program in 1996. It was determined by the TRC after a yearlong investigation that it was highly probable that the pro-apartheid South African governments CBW program used lethal toxins in an offensive show of force against black guerilla militants.

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that Basson was connected with many of the alleged atrocities committed by the government at the time. In January 1997, the CIA tipped off the South African government that Basson was attempting to flee the country. That same month he was arrested in a sting operation in Pretoria and caught in possession of one thousand Ecstasy pills and four trunks full of secretive documents related to Project Coast. Investigators also found in the trunks suspicious letters from contacts around the world.

One of the more interesting items found at the time of Bassons arrest was a Verkope Lys or sales list (view the list on page 97 of The Rollback of South Africa pdf document) that were believed to contain items produced by RRL purportedly for use as murder weapons. Some of the deadly items mentioned on the list included: cigarettes with anthrax, botulinum laced milk, poisoned whiskey and chocolates. Investigators believed that the list could be the smoking gun they were looking for, connecting the CBW program with the illegal and offensive use of lethal agents.

The discovery of other documents found in Bassons possession led TRC investigators to suspect that he might have been involved in transferring his vast knowledge about South Africas CBW program to other countries such as Iraq and Libya.  Furthermore, it was also suspected that Basson could have traded information he obtained from foreign CBW programs with other governments around the world. Following the arrest, the TRC began an investigation into Project Coast and Basson.

In November 1997, the TRC enlisted the help of the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA) to investigate the activities related to Project Coast and those involved in the CBW program, specifically Wouter Basson. A Dutch researcher who worked for the institute, Klaas de Jonge, led the investigation. His report concerning the involvement of South Africas apartheid regime in activities including CBW, hit squads and other operations were listed in The Truth Commission Files and kept highly secret throughout its development. The information obtained by de Jong helped the TRC to build its case against Basson.

According to de Jong, those who worked for the apartheid regime were not forthcoming with information concerning the CBW program. Despite the limited cooperation, enough information was obtained through a multitude of other sources, which led to the conclusion that regime operations had one primary goal in mind, the elimination of black opposition and its political allies. Moreover, de Jong suggested that the programs activities led by Basson and his team either directly or indirectly resulted in, at least, a gross violation of human rights, fraud and theft and, at most, mass murder.

During the time the TRC was investigating Basson, he was also being investigated by three other parties including: the Office for Serious Economic Offences (OSEO), The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Gauteng Attorney-Generals Special Investigation Team. There were fears by the other parties that the TRCs case would interfere with the other ongoing cases, which led to a slow down in the Commissions investigation. However, with the help of the OSEO, the TRCs was able to obtain enough vital information that enabled them to continue with legal proceedings against Basson.

On July 31, 1998 after months of wrangling between Bassons attorneys and state representatives, he appeared before the TRC and gave evidence for approximately 12 hours. To the states dismay, very little evidence was actually revealed because much of the questioning was cut short by Bassons attorneys who consistently argued the legal technicalities of the case. Yet, the TRC was able to establish some important facts.

According to a report into the investigation released by the TRC, the Commission learned that Basson was the primary decision maker and coordinator of the activities conducted under Project Coast. Moreover, much of his activities remained unquestioned by his superiors, who repeatedly allocated large sums of money for projects, for which they seemed to have little interest or knowledge. In short, the evidence provided by Basson showed that he virtually had free reign to conduct Project Coast operations as he saw fit. Thus, if charges of illegal conduct were discovered during a trial, Basson would bear the brunt of any sentence imposed.    

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