11 June 1998: Link to a long, detailed Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on SA chemical and biological warfare. And, the (UK) Sunday Times had a report some weeks ago. (Thanks to Anonymous)
11 June 1998
Source: Hardcopy The New York Times, June 11, 1998, p. 3
See EuroParl report: Assessment of the Technologies of Political Control
By SUZANNE DALEY
CAPE TOWN, June 10 -- Screwdrivers held tiny poison-filled cylinders, rings had spring-loaded compartments hiding deadly powders, vials of whisky were laced with the toxic herbicide paraquat, even peppermints were spiked with botulism.
During testimony this week before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a parade of witnesses has made clear that undetectable ways of murdering political opponents were a high priority of a chemical and biological campaign during the apartheid era.
Millions of dollars were spent on developing James Bond-type gadgets, though the results, when not deadly, seemed more in keeping with the bumbling Maxwell Smart. The head of one company the military used described accidentally poisoning himself when he showed an operative how the loaded ring worked.
And several notable assassination efforts apparently failed miserably. ln one case, not enough of a toxic substance was poured into five pairs of the victim's underwear. In another, a poisoned shirt was borrowed from the intended victim, he escaped injury altogether but a friend who wore the shirt died.
The commission heard testimony indicating that such poisoned gadgets were distributed in volume to agents working for the Government. They were among an arsenal of techniques used to brutalize anti-apartheid activists.
The exact extent of the chemical and biological programs and whether they included weapons for mass destruction is unclear and is likely to remain so even after this week's testimony before the commission, which is investigating atrocities of the past.
But the hearings have offered a compelling and sometimes detailed glimpse into program, code-named Project B or Project Coast and led by Dr. Wouter Basson, a cardiologist who was once the personal doctor to the former President, P. W. Botha. Dr. Basson is now facing an array of criminal charges, including fraud and theft.
The Government has expressed unease with the hearings and asked this week that the panel hold its sessions behind closed doors. It said it wanted to keep any information that could help anyone build such weapons out of the public domain.
But the commission went ahead with public hearings, saying it would be careful of such considerations.
One witness, Dr. Jan Lourens, a bioengineer who in the late 1980's headed a company called Protechnik, said his company began by making protective clothing to withstand chemical attacks, but soon developed a sideline in gadgetry that included umbrellas with poisoned tips, soap boxes packed with explosives and a walking stick that could fire poisonous pellets.
"I was never told what they were for but it was quite obvious," he said. "I was never under any illusion that it was for any purpose other than assassinating human beings."
Earlier, Dr. Lourens had worked for a different front company that tried to make substances to reduce the fertility and virility of blacks. He said he had been told the drugs were for women who were fighting against the Angolan Government and were falling pregnant too often, a story even he found implausible.
Nevertheless, Dr. Lourens said, his laboratory took up on the project, experimenting on animals, particularly baboons. Among his jobs was to design a restraining chair for the baboons and a stimulator to collect semen. He said he also witnessed the testing of tear gas on caged baboons.
Another witness, Schalk van Rensburg, who worked at another of the front companies, Roodeplaat Research Laboratory, said it produced chocolates and cigarettes infected with anthrax, beer bottles containing botulism and sugar laced with salmonella. Included in a document titled "List of Sales" were 32 bottles of cholera culture.
The hearings have also explored what some commissioners have described as the "underlying criminality" of the projects, which apparently cost millions of dollars and ended up making millionaires of some of the people in charge.
One reluctant witness, Dr. Wynand Swanepoel, a dentist who said he was the managing director of the Roodeplaat lab but had no idea what the company was making, apparently invested about $10,000 in company stock and a few years later made almost $800,000 when the company was sold.
"You would just call that a good investment, I suppose?" a commission officials asked Dr. Swanepoel today. "Yes," he replied.
Some witnesses have said they produced drugs usually used for recreational purposes, including Ecstasy and Mandrex. They said they suspected members of the military simply sold the drugs.
The man who was in charge of South Africa's chemical and biological warfare efforts, Mr. Basson, was arrested in January 1997 when he was caught with about $20,000 worth of Ecstasy tablets. He has since been charged with theft and fraud involving the disappearance of about $6 million in Government funds.
Mr. Basson had been expected to testify and had promised to tell all. But today his lawyers argued that he should be excused from testifying, saying it would deny him a fair trial. Dressed in a bright African shirt, Mr. Basson seemed to have a hard time sitting still as his lawyers argued.
Former Government officials have claimed that the country began the programs after suspecting that they would face such weapons in Angola, where they were supporting the rebels and the Soviet Union was supporting the Government.
Experts contend that South Africa developed nuclear bombs and had the ability to develop chemical and biological weapons. The country has since dismantled its nuclear weapons and signed treaties against chemical and biological warfare.
But rumors persist that South Africa may have used chemical agents against Mozambique a decade ago. The Russian news agency Tass also alleged that South Africa used deadly herbicides in Namibia in 1984. Some experts suggest that outbreaks of cholera in African National Congress training camps in Angola may have been the work of the South African military.
"They seem to have used their abilities for some pretty odd things," said Laurie Boulden, a researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs.