The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2000
CHANDRÉ GOULD & PETER I. FOLB
The South African Chemical and Biological
Warfare Program: An Overview
Chandré Gould is an Associate Researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town. Peter I. Folb, MD, FRCP (London), FRS (South Africa) is Professor of Pharmacology, University of Cape Town, and Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Drug Policy. Both authors participated in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation into chemical and biological warfare conducted in 1997 and 1998. This research project is hosted by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town and supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, Frederick Ebert Stiftung, and the Norwegian government.
In 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) held a public hearing into the chemical and biological warfare (CBW) program established under the auspices of the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the early 1980s. Witnesses who
gave evidence at the hearing included scientists who had staffed the chemical and biological research and production facilities of the program; the former project officer,
Dr. Wouter Basson; and the project manager and former surgeon general, Daniel (Niel) Knobel. This public hearing was a first of its kind in the world. Nowhere else had a government or military establishment been required to account openly and fully to the public for the development and daily activities of a national chemical and biological weapons program. A separate criminal trial of Dr. Basson, which is still underway as of this writing (September 2000), has produced additional information about the program.
At the TRC hearing, military documents were presented that described the nature of work that was done as well as the management of the program.
This article is based primarily on documents that were made available to the press and public during the official TRC hearings by the surgeon general of the military and others in their testimony, or have appeared as exhibits in the criminal trial of Dr. Wouter Basson. This article presents an overview of the South African CBW program as revealed
through these documents, the testimony of witnesses at the hearing and in the trial, and interviews and other research conducted by the authors during a three-year investigation.
The article begins by presenting the official reasons given for the initiation of the program, which emphasized a need to counter a perceived threat that chemical
weapons might be used against South African soldiers.
The article then describes the nature of the program and its structure. Subsequent sections then provide more detail on the military chain of command, the recruitment
of scientists, the nature of the products researched and developed, and the conduct of operations that were linked to the CBW program. The article then summarizes the
evidence revealed at the TRC of international collaboration with the program. A short analysis of the criminal trial of Basson concludes the overview.