Wouter Basson, the apartheid-era chemical and biological warfare expert, will defend his medical practice after the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) said he would be charged for his role in the army’s weapons programme. The man dubbed “Dr Death” by the media, because of allegations that he developed chemical and biological pathogens to kill members of anti-apartheid movements, runs a private practice as a cardiologist in Cape Town and Pretoria.
Professor Lesley London of the Health and Human Rights Project at UCT and Dr Ralph Mgijima, the former superintendent in the Gauteng Department of Health, lodged separate complaints to the council about Basson’s role as the head of Project Coast. The top-secret programme included attempts to develop bacteria capable of killing black people or make them infertile.
Basson was acquitted in 2002 following a marathon trial in which he was accused of 229 murders, possession of trafficking in drugs, fraud, and conspiracy to murder and theft. He refused to seek amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He told the Cape Times on Sunday that he had been aware of attempts to have him struck off the roll for the past four years.
“I have been informed about the complaints and will obviously defend myself. Medicine is my life and I intend to keep practising,” he said. Basson, who had served as a personal physician to former president PW Botha, said he was registered as a doctor in 1973. London confirmed that they had tried to get the council to act against Basson’s “unethical conduct” because he was a medical doctor at the time he was involved in the SADF programme.
“The Health and Human Rights Project was born of submissions made to the TRC on the human rights violations by medical practitioners. We lodged the complaint against Dr Basson because we feel the practice should maintain the highest ethical standards,” London said. HPCSA spokesperson Tendai Dhliwayo confirmed that London lodged a complaint in 2001, but said the council’s hands were tied by Basson’s criminal trial.
Basson said London and Mgijima were “nice guys who are misinformed” about his role in the programme. He said he still received his R50 000 a month stipend from the SA National Defence Force but dodged questions about what his duties there were. “Yes, I am still employed by the Defence Force and enjoying every moment of it,” he said. He was suspended from the SANDF in 1999 and resumed his practice as heart surgeon after his acquittal in 2002. SANDF spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said he needed to check Basson’s status with human resources, but added that last time he had checked, Basson was still on the payroll.
Dr Marjorie Jobson, the director of the Khulumani Support Group, welcomed the attempts to have Basson struck off the roll. “That’s fantastic news,” she said, adding that she felt aggrieved that Basson received a SANDF salary. “That money should be used to fund his victims,” she said. Khulumani was one of the organisations that expressed dismay when the National Prosecuting Authority decided not to proceed with criminal charges against Basson in 2005.
She said the organisation was collaborating with the Attorney-General of Namibia to have Basson extradited to face criminal charges in that country. Basson is alleged to have been involved in killing guerrillas there in the 1980s.