Were you surprised when you learned that South Africa had developed a covert
biological warfare program and did you have any moral dilemma about it at
Within the framework of the assurances that I had been given--that it was never
intended to be used aggressively--it didn't bother me so much. Within the
framework of the assurances that I was given that everything would be destroyed
and that the data would be properly put under a net of security, I was happy
that we were doing the right thing at that time. ...
Why did you commission a state report? What was it that worried you?
What really triggered it was ... the discovery by Judge Goldstone, whom I
appointed to investigate allegations of unacceptable criminal behavior by
undercover agents of the military intelligence and the police, which made me
believe that there was some truth in many of the allegations.
I then appointed [General Pierre] Styen in order to ensure that we root
out any such elements. His report then resulted in me calling the head of the
defense force and some of the senior generals together and confronting them
with the essence of what Styen had briefed me about. I didn't have a written
report from him at that stage. Taking immediate steps, [I asked] for the
suspension and in some instances the firing of a whole list of people. I didn't
supply the names, they, in interaction with Styen, came up with a list of names.
What was your reaction when you learned from his report that there were
abuses of the biological warfare program?
It wasn't very detailed [in] his report, but it was part of what he said. I was
deeply shocked to hear that we might have been involved in assassinations and
the like. I've never been part of any policy decision that said it would be OK
to commit these heinous crimes and gross violations of human rights. I was
accused of overreacting by clamping down in the way in which I did ... today,
I'm glad that I did it.
What was your reaction when you discovered in recent months that the project
officer appeared to have abused the program? That papers that should have been
destroyed were found in trunks in his home?
I was deeply shocked. I'm not in a position to test such allegations or such
evidence. What happened with regard to the real program is that at a certain
stage, General Knobel came to me with a letter in which he provided me with a
key to a safe, which can only be unlocked by two keys and one of the two keys
was given to me as president ... [He] assured me that nobody could get to that
information without that formula for the safe and the key. I recently formally
delivered that key and the formula to Deputy President Mbeki for further safe
keeping. The real worry I think that existed was not so much about the
scientific data as documented because I was satisfied that in terms of the
arrangements that was under proper lock and key. The real worry, also from the
American and the British government when they approached me shortly before the
1994 election, was the knowledge in the minds of people. The knowledge in the
heads of certain specific individuals and whatever notes they might have made
that were not put under control.
A specific name came to the fore, a certain Dr. Wouter Basson. He is in court
at the moment in South Africa and I think it would not be proper for me to
expand with regard to him personally.
London and Washington made official démarches to you because they
were deeply worried about the biological warfare program. What did they
They were initially quite aggressive. They had a long list of demands and I
said that because I could give them certain assurances, that we could not accede
to all sorts of demands; that I was concerned as they were that we should
prevent the knowledge that had been achieved in South Africa to spread [and] be
used elsewhere; that already preventative steps had been taken in that regard
and that they could be assured, therefore, that we would deal with integrity
within the framework of our sovereignty and we would not allow all sorts of
inspections by representatives of other countries; [that] they must accept my
word. I got the impression that they were actually quite happy, they knew by
then that the program had been canceled, had been wound down ... but their main
concern was the knowledge in the minds of certain individuals who might become
... loose cannons, using that information in other parts of the world.
There was a second démarche. How did that go?
The second démarche was after the election when President Mandela was
then president of the country. I was one of the two deputy presidents, so the
ball is really in his side of the court on this specific issue. But I was
present at more than one briefing after I became deputy president where
President Mandela was fully briefed ... and then from there onwards how the
matter was handled was in the hands of the president, the two deputy
presidents, the minister of justice, the minister of defense and they continued
to ensure that this capacity would not be reawoken again.
When President Mandela was briefed on this program, what was his
We were in agreement. We never argued about the need that it should be managed
to ensure that South Africa would be in step with the rest of the world on this
issue. And I personally believe that chemical weapons are atrocious.
Biological weapons too?
Biological weapons. I'm against them ... I am so glad that we have succeeded in
becoming fully part of the convention, that at the moment, according to my
information, South Africa is playing a constructive, cooperative role and it is
now in step with the rest of the world.
Certain people were relieved of their positions as a result of the Steyn
Report, a report you took seriously and acted upon. Were you surprised when one
of the key people was rehired by the new administration?
I was somewhat surprised, on the other hand there might have been a theory that
[it] would be a way of ensuring that a person with intimate knowledge would
remain sort of part of a system. At that stage, however, I also believe that
the long investigations, which I ordered when I was still president, had not
yet come up with sufficient evidence to provide sufficient grounds for a court
case. Since then, there's been other developments and there are court cases
Do you think, in terms of biological warfare, the genie is out of the bottle
I think that what is happening across the world in this regard is extremely
important I don't have any reason to believe that the research that has been
done here has actually lead to transfer of full details to any source. We're
back in the crowd together with the rest of the world in saying "no" to
chemical warfare, in saying "no" to biological warfare. I'm quite happy that,
in as far as it was possible, we are achieving as a country the goals which
I've set for myself with regard to issues such as this, how do we join the rest
of the world in preventing this type of warfare which no civil society can
accept and support.
If it were to be sure that there was an abuse of the biological warfare
program well before your presidency and that it had been used in border warfare
on people, what would be your reaction?
I would be shocked. I would be extremely unhappy about it and I would distance
myself from that.
Is it perhaps an inevitable outcome of having a biological warfare program
that there might be some hemorrhage? Do you think you can control these
Well, we've had atom bombs in many countries and so far that has been fairly
successfully controlled, so it is possible to control such things, but it is
best not to have them.