Apartheid regime 'tried to kill cleric'

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The Independent Online

A South African clergyman yesterday told the trial of the apartheid regime's "doctor death", Wouter Basson, that he fought off death four times after an attempt to kill him by lacing his clothes with toxic chemicals.

A South African clergyman yesterday told the trial of the apartheid regime's "doctor death", Wouter Basson, that he fought off death four times after an attempt to kill him by lacing his clothes with toxic chemicals.

But the allegation was questioned in Pretoria High Court yesterday when a Federal Bureau of Investigation scientist said no traces of poison were found on the clothes of Reverend Frank Chikane when he was treated in the United States. But the scientist said one of Mr Chikane's urine samples was found to contain poisonous organophosphates.

Mr Chikane, now director-general in the office of President Thabo Mbeki, said he first became ill during a visit to Namibia in April 1989. He said doctors were baffled. "They just battled to keep me alive. My whole system was falling apart. I had pain everywhere."

He recovered and went to the US, taking the same clothes with him. Mr Chikane, former general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, told the court that at a function in Wisconsin in 1989, he went into respiratory arrest, suffered nausea, vomiting and muscle pain. His clothes were taken away and he recovered, he said.

The allegation was previously heard and accepted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at its hearings of the apartheid regime's chemical and biological warfare programme in Cape Town in June and July 1998.

But yesterday, an FBI forensic scientist, Thomas Lynch, said no traces of poison were found on Mr Chikane's clothes. But he admitted that the testing technique used, steam distillation, was "rather old". Dr Lynch said: "It could have been there, and we might not have found it."

Basson, accused of being the apartheid regime's chemical warfare supremo, is charged with 11 counts of conspiracy to murder, including one against Mr Chikane. Basson is also implicated in an attempt to kill Dullah Omar, now South Africa's transport minister, who was due to give evidence yesterday but failed to turn up.

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