Apartheid’s chemical war on show
Deadly chemical warfare ‘weapons’ displayed in centre
ABIOLOGICAL and chemical warfare exhibition on methods used by the apartheid government to eliminate former freedom fighters and struggle activists, is on show at the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg.
Among the items exhibited are food products, alcohol beverages, cigarettes, clothing and household items laced with dangerous and sometimes deadly chemicals, meant to poison those fighting the oppressive apartheid government of the time.
Among the victims who survived the poisoning onslaught were the children of former Daily Dispatch editor and Biko’s close friend, Donald Woods, liberation struggle veterans Reverend Frank Chikane and Pallo Jordan, to mention just a few.
The exhibition, titled Poisoned Pasts: Legacies of the South African chemical and biological warfare programme, is sponsored by Stellenbosch University, in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko Foundations.
Steve Biko Centre’s tour guide Asanda Mbaxa said the exhibition would run month.
“It shows how far the government was prepared to go in fighting those who were fighting for liberation,” Mbaxa said this week.
Also listed in the exhibition are the names of hundreds of liberation struggle activists who survived poisoning by apartheid government until the end of next agents led by the infamous Dr Wouter Basson.
Basson was the head of the South African Defence Force’s secret chemical and biological warfare programme dubbed “Project Coast” from 1981 to 1992.
The existence of Project Coast came to light in 1996 after some of those involved applied for amnesty to cardiologist, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). During the TRC, it was revealed that the apartheid government had developed chemical and biological assassination weapons at two sites – Roodeplaat Research Laboratories and Delta G Scientific – both front companies set up to conduct the business of Project Coast under Basson’s direction.
According to an online search, the documented activities of Basson’s Project Coast included:
Experiments to determine how best to infect targeted people with deadly poisons and how they could go undetected during a post-mortem. Agents prepared for these uses included paraoxon, an organophosphate poison placed on the clothes of Reverend Chikane, which would lead to breathing paralysis, and thallium, an undetectable poison used to kill student activist Siphiwo Mthimkulu;
The development of new incapacitating drugs and irritants used in the form of “knock-out drops” added to drinks that were offered to political detainees to cause them to lose consciousness before they were executed at point-blank range.
Activist Sizwe Kondile’s assassination on the top of the Lebombo Mountain range outside Komatipoort is one example of the use of so-called “knock-out drops”;
The provision of samples of the biological agents, anthrax and botulinum toxin to military and police operators for the poisoning of water sources for communities; and
The manufacture of large quantities of mandrax and ecstasy tablets, allegedly for crowd-control purposes.
In December 2013, after four years of a misconduct inquiry by the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Basson was found guilty of unprofessional conduct for these gruesome activities. — asandan@dispatch.
DARK TIMES: The exhibit at the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg displaying biological and chemical warfare items used by the then-apartheid government against its political opponents