Mandela 'no' to ban on Basson

DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson
DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson

NELSON Mandela refused to impose restrictions on former South A frican Defence Force [SADF] chemical researcher Wouter Basson.

Daniel Pieter Knobel, former head of the SADF's chemical and biological warfare programme, said this at the Health Professions Council of SA [HPCSA] professional conduct committee in Pretoria yesterday where Basson is charged with unprofessional conduct.

The charge relates to his chemical research work in the 1980s.

Under intense cross-examination from HPCSA's pro forma complainant, Advocate Salie Joubert, Knobel told the committee that Basson was forced to take early retirement in 1993 by former president FW de Klerk.

He said De Klerk had intended to silence Basson as relations between them had soured. He said De Klerk had even tried to influence the then newly elected Mandela not to make use of Basson's expertise.

Basson was in charge of Project Coast, which developed several chemicals, including a "safer" teargas to use during riots. According to Knobel, who was also the SADF's surgeon general, full briefs on Project Coast were given to De Klerk, Mandela, the cabinet and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"In August 1994, representatives of the UK and US came to South Africa and a meeting was held with Mandela, which I attended. He [Mandela] made it clear that he did not want to confine Basson as he himself had spent 27 years in jail.

"A lot of things were said in that meeting which I don't want to talk about now as Mandela is currently lying on his death bed and he cannot tell his side of the story. I'm not comfortable with this line of questioning," Knobel said.

He also said that he had another private meeting with Mandela in which the former statesman agreed to Basson's 1995 appointment as the defence force's chief cardiologist.

Basson told Sowetan yesterday that his friendship with Mandela began in 1990.

"We are very good friends. I used to cook for him at his house in Johannesburg. I used to bring [his wife] Graça Machel to him and would buy prawns for him in Maputo and cook them at his house," he said. - sifilel@sowetan.co.za

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