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Scientist ordered to testify about plots to kill blacks

SHARE Scientist ordered to testify about plots to kill blacks

Amid revelations of chilling research projects designed to preserve white rule in South Africa, a court said Friday that the man who headed that campaign must testify.

In the past week, a host of apartheid-era scientists have told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about mind-boggling schemes nurtured in secret laboratories. They include poisoned chocolates, germ-warfare agents capable of singling out blacks and plots to slip Nelson Mandela, now the president, a drug that would cause brain damage.Toxins were made and passed on to apartheid assassins, referred to in secret documents only by their code names "Chris" and "Koos."

One scientist, Schalk van Rensburg, testified that a shirt laced with poison was given to an activist with the African National Congress, the black group seeking to end apartheid. The target, who was not identified, unknowingly gave the deadly garment to a friend, who then died.

Lawyers for the man who controlled the apartheid biological and chemical weapons program, Dr. Wouter Basson, have been trying to prevent him from having to appear before the Truth Commission. But today the commission ruled against Basson.

Basson sat grim-faced while the panel rejected his lawyer's appeal to postpone his appearance because it could prejudice a possible criminal case against him. Basson allegedly produced and sold Ecstasy and other drugs while he was overseeing apartheid science projects.

Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this week's testimony was the most shocking he has heard as chairman of the Truth Commission, set up in 1995 to investigate apartheid abuses and heal racial divisions.

"Here are people of high intelligence, coldly and clinically in white laboratory coats, working on things they know were meant to be instruments of destroying people," Tutu told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The scientists explained their actions by saying they were virtually brainwashed by government propaganda in the 1980s that promoted the idea that South Africa was on the brink of falling to communism and black rule.

"That was the psychosis that prevailed," Daan Goosen, who headed a covert biological research laboratory, recalled Thursday.

"I was not thinking rationally at the time," he said. "Today, I know I was wrong. You can't do that to people, it is just not justifiable."

Van Rensburg told the commission that any researchers who expressed reservations about their work, or who moved to break ranks, were in grave danger.