In the 1980’s, the South African system of apartheid was “threatened”. The regime set up a secret program of biological and chemical research that it called “Project Coast.” Its objective was to produce lethal substances which were ethnically selective and destructive, thereby allowing the reduction in the black population. The exact number of people who died in these experiments is unknown, though some estimate several thousands. The director of the project, Dr. Wouter Basson, was freed April 12, 2002 after an unusual trial. A scandal has emerged around Switzerland having collaborated with “Doctor Death’s” research. Indeed, it seems that so as to avoid violating treaties on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the apartheid régime subcontracted with several democracies to carry out such research.
Some call him “Doctor Death,” and the epithet is not too strong. At 52 years of age, this son of an opera singer, who was a brilliant chemist and an ardent patriot, worked on one of the horrendous political-military efforts known in the postwar period.
As late as 1984, the racist apartheid government-in a covert war with its neighboring countries, especially Angola-had not won international support using its anti-communist propaganda. With the pretext of fearing a biological chemical attack, the established military authorities decided to develop a special unit responsible for chemical and biological warfare. It’s codename: “Project Coast.”
The then president of the Freedom Front, General Viljoen, was a member of parliament and close to the extreme rightwing racist French politician Le Pen, who introduced Viljoen to the conservative views. Even today, Viljoen continues to boast of having politically pushed Project Coast through when he directed the South African defense in the 1980’s. This was general is who requested the services of South Africa’s Dr. Wouter Basson, who would earn the name “Doctor Death” after undertaking this project.
The 1980’s saw the return of Mandela and the arrival of democracy. Political authorities realized that the demographics did not bold well for them. In light of a situation of “one person, one vote,” the Afrikaner community (descendents of white Europeans, generally English or Dutch) would very soon have no more political weight.
That observation led Dr. Basson to a blunt conclusion: with less blacks there would be fewer black votes.
But that equation would cost money. Given this, before the 1990’s the racist government granted several millions francs to create a state-of-the-art military laboratory in Roodeplaat, on the outskirts of Pretoria.
Starting that moment, intense research was carried out to develop a lethal molecule sensitive to black people’s melanin skin pigment. In other words, a weapon of ethnically selective extermination.
Likewise, Dr. Basson’s military laboratory studied the possibility of spreading major epidemics among African populations. Another department of “Project Coast” was interested in the most appropriate scientific method to sterilize masses of black women.
Foreign military units specializing in chemical and biological war would contribute to that research effort in good measure. England, the United States, Switzerland, France, but also Iraq and Libya, figured among the generous or occasional collaborators.
This was significant international cooperation - despite the signing of the numerous chemical-biological non-proliferation treaties and despite the international embargo decreed by the United Nations against the apartheid régime.
The laboratory, called Roodeplaat, had become a veritable pharmacy of the macabre elixirs of botulism, thallium, anthrax, AIDS, cholera - all in mind-boggling quantities This lethal technology was under the authority of one man: Dr. Basson, with a sole target: the black population.
That doctor’s activities were revealed only as late as 1998 during special hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR). But three years ago was freed after a token bail was paid to Pretoria’s High Court of Justice. The principal charges that brought him before justice authorities were income fraud and the massive production of drugs; the charges of his having committed sixty murders or attempted murders were only secondary. Among his potential targets had been prominent figures such as former President Mandela and Reverend Franck Chikane (President Mbeki’s current adviser).
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission auditions demonstrated that it was reasonable to think that several thousands of blacks had been killed in the experiments or by politically motivated murders directed by the laboratories. Currently, Dr. Basson lives in an elegant neighborhood of Pretoria. As a cardiologist, he even holds a position at the city’s training hospital, something that supposedly does not pose a threat to his clients, the majority of whom are black.
That also means that he continues to be employed by the South African government, along with the fact that Basson is also presently a member of the South African army. That astonishing situation was severely denounced by magistrates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who demand the creation of an international tribunal so that humanity’s crimes perpetrated by Basson and his accomplices would finally be judged.
The trial against him which started at the beginning of 1999 did not expose all his criminal activities. Further restrictions were applied when the very conservative and extremely controversial judge Willie Hartzenberg (brother of the president of the South African Conservative Party and named during the apartheid period) proved his clear partiality, reducing to mere dust the accusations in each hearing.
During the investigation process, three of the doctor’s CD’s disappeared. These contained files with everything he did prior to his arrest and included all the results of his various experiments.
The trail concluded on April 12, 2002 with Dr. Basson being acquitted. At that moment the International Criminal Court was created. Immediately, the prosecution announced that it would appeal. The respected and well known religious leader Desmond Tutu, in a message directed to the public, spoke “of a somber day for South Africa.”
There are many questions and few answers, but some certainties: the arsenal of chemical which were developed were not lost to everyone in the world, and its main sponsor is still the Ministry of Defense, paid for by South African taxpayers.
Another truth: the chemical-biological non-proliferation treaties signed by the western countries have not prevented the trading of that sinister knowledge, and it is not implausible that without our collaboration, “Doctor Death” never would have existed.
In these times of biological and chemical terrorism, an appeal must go out for the creation of an independent international commission to identify all those who collaborated with “Project Coast,” and to locate that reserve of chemical-biological weapons.
Swiss Collaboration With Dr. Basson’s Experiments
In the beginning of June 2002, a Swiss parliamentary delegation was created (called the Administration Commission [AdCom]) charged with examining the degree to which Switzerland and its services collaborated with a South African biological and chemical war program named “Project Coast”, directed by Dr. Wouter Basson.
But the work of AdCom, which should have presented its official report in the spring of 2003, seems to have bee interrupted. Meanwhile, the DDPS (the Federal Department of Defense) took the initiative to directly interrogate Wouter Basson in Pretoria using a written questionnaire form with the stamp of the Swiss administration. The initiative of the DDPS relates to an official act for a foreign citizen residing abroad, something which formally prohibits the Geneva Convention without the approval of the country involved, in this case South Africa, which discovered the case before the media.
This bothersome form of going around established norms was revealed by the Swiss newspaper WeltWoche during the week of October 20, 2002. The AdCom then proceeded to publish a news article on October 24, 2002. It placed responsibility on DDPS in specifying that it would not comment on its activities until the presentation of the report. As for the DDPS, it admitted to having made an “error” in its publication and declared that “AdCom is responsible for its acts before the Parliament.”
Switzerland is now in such a delicate situation regarding South Africa such that it cannot continue collaborating with the investigation - an original form of burying an issue which it finds bothersome.
Book & Documentaries
Dr la Muerte, Investigación sobre el terrorismo biológico de Estado en Sudáfrica by Tristan Mendès-France
Passé sous silence - Docteur La Mort
Documentary written by Tristan Mendès-France and produced by Jean Pierre Prévost. France 3, Thursday, October 31, 2002, 23:55 (50 min)
La maîtrise des armements chimiques et biologiques (report of the Western European Union (UEO) Parliamentary Assembly. December 5, 2001. See the introduction of the report and especially the chapter «Les difficultés d’application de la CAB»
Les rapports entretenus par les services de renseignements suisses avec l’Afrique du Sud, report by the Delegation of the Administration Commission of of the Federal Chambers on the role of the Swiss information services in framework of relations between Switzerland and South Africa. See especially Chapter 2, the part «Pretendida participación del Laboratorio AC de Spiez en los proyectos sudafricanos de desarrollo de armas biológicas y químicas»