National Party cleans up image

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The Independent Online
AS SOUTH Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) seeks to establish the full extent of the chemical and biological warfare programme set up by the apartheid government, the head of the former ruling party has called on his predecessors to take responsibility for their actions.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who became leader of the National Party last year, said everyone was filled with revulsion at last week's revelations at the TRC, which included attempts to use hallucinogenic drugs for riot control and a search for a bacterium which would selectively harm black people. Ministers in the previous government were "hiding behind each other", he said.

Although Mr van Schalkwyk sought to broaden his attack to include the present government, which he accused of "hiding behind apartheid" and showing no more accountability than the "previous dispensation", it is the first time evidence at the commission has provoked such a response from the National Party, and shows its potential to damage the party's reputation less than a year before South Africa's next election. In 1994 the Nationalists lost power for the first time since 1948, except in the Western Cape where they control the provincial government.

Last week's lurid testimony from scientists, which the TRC chairman, Archbishop Des-mond Tutu, described as the most shocking he had heard, has come closer to implicating senior figures in the apartheid regime than any other evidence.

Former president PW Botha, who will return to court in August on a charge of refusing to testify, has claimed ignorance of the work of apartheid's "black sheep".

His successor, FW de Klerk, this week denied knowledge of the experiments in the chemical and biological warfare programme, although the office of deputy president Thabo Mbeki said Mr de Klerk had handed over the key to a safe containing results of the research.

One man who can tell the whole story is Dr Wouter Basson, who headed the programme.

His lawyers delayed his appearance at the TRC last week, but he is due to give evidence today and tomorrow unless a court injunction can be obtained on the grounds of prejudice to numerous cases against him, including conspiracy to murder.