April 12, 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Wouter Basson acquitted among strong protests

Apartheid-era germ warfare expert Wouter Basson, who has been acquitted on 46 charges in South Africa, may still stand trial for atrocities in Namibia, Foreign Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab said on Friday, April 12. "For us the matter will not rest until we see justice done," he said a day after the acquittal, adding that Namibia might consider applying to extradite Basson to stand trial. "We know, and this was confirmed by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings, that as part of apartheid South Africa's chemical and biological warfare programme, Basson and his cohorts eliminated more than 200 Swapo (South West African People's Organisation)," Gurirab said. Basson's acquittal was a "scandalous and monumental travesty of justice," the minister said.

Six charges against Basson, including three charges of conspiracy to commit murder in Namibia in the 1980s, were dropped at the start of the marathon 30-month trial in the Pretoria High Court. Those charges alleged that Basson was involved in the poisoning of some 200 Swapo detainees in an internment camp and the death of five other detainees at a military base who were injected with muscle relaxants. All the bodies were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean from an aeroplane. Basson was also accused of being involved in a plot to kill Namibian public servant Peter Kalangula by smearing poison on his car door and a plan to contaminate the water supply of a Swapo refugee camp outside Windhoek with cholera.

The charges against Basson were dropped because of a general amnesty to all apartheid soldiers, issued by South Africa's administrator in Namibia on the eve of the country's independence in 1990. Until then, white South Africa had waged a war against black nationalists in the country. Asked whether the amnesty would make it difficult for Namibia to try Basson, Gurirab said that he would not "honour that question with an answer". "We are an independent, sovereign state now, so those proclamations are irrelevant now," he said.

In South Africa itself, Jubilee SAs spokesperson Neville Gabriel issued the following media statement on April 11 (excerpts):

„Dr Death trial outcome a travesty of justice:

Wouter Basson’s acquittal on a host of most horrendous charges in the Pretoria High Court today is a shameful day for truth and justice in post-apartheid South Africa...

Basson’s case represents all that was despicable about the corrupted apartheid system and the continued impunity of apartheid criminals in the new South Africa, while apartheid’s victims continue to suffer in poverty, joblessness, and the failure to ensure reparations.

Thousands of apartheid’s victims hoped that the Basson trial would help them to understand the past and come to terms with it, and that it would deliver a small token of justice for the many who were tortured, killed, and exiled. However, the trial revealed only that apartheid’s powerful military and secret service bosses still have much to hide and still have the means to obstruct the wheels of justice.

This is the second time that the courts have cleared high level apartheid military leaders of wrongdoing, the first being Magnus Malan. It is evident that the courts are unable to deal fairly with such matters. Unbelievably, the court has given more credibility to Basson’s word than to the two hundred state witnesses and many more written statements.

Dr Death, the head of apartheid’s chemical and biological weapons programme, whom the court admitted has extensive knowledge and expertise in the production of dreadfully dangerous chemical and biological weapons and knowledge of the chemical and biological weapons market, now walks free without any way of society controlling his activities.

Jubilee South Africa further expressed alarm that conflicting statements have emerged from the departments of Justice and National Intelligence about who has custody of the missing Truth & Reconciliation (TRC) files relating to chemical and biological weapons and the murder of Dulcie September. It is highly irregular that the National Intelligence Agency had access to the missing files. We demand an explanation of this from both relevant government departments...“ (MAIL&GUARDIAN; Jubilee SA)


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