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Why did he do those terrible things?

Families of Wouter Basson’s victims want the controversial doctor to ask for their forgiveness.

“Every time people talk about [Wouter] Basson it digs up old wounds,” says Maria Ntuli, sitting on a white wire chair in the dining room of her home in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria. A framed, A3-sized photograph of her youngest son, Jeremiah (then 17) in school uniform, hangs on the wall near a poster of former president Nelson Mandela.

The photograph of Jeremiah is old and fuzzy. It was taken almost 30 years ago before he and nine other teenagers, also known as the Mamelodi 10, left home to join the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, in 1987. 

It wasn’t until 1996 that the families learned that the group had died on the day they left home. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s transcripts they were injected with a debilitating drug and burnt to death after the kombi they were travelling in crashed into a tree and exploded. 

“Basson [a cardiologist who was the head of Project Coast, the government’s biological warfare programme, at the time] is the one who was manufacturing the chemicals and bombs and injections,” Ntuli says. “We just want the law to take its course and hold him accountable for his actions.”

On December 18 the Health Professions Council of South Africa will decide whether Basson is guilty of acting unethically as a medical doctor while heading Project Coast. 

Ntuli and other family members of Basson’s alleged victims attended the final arguments of the council’s hearings last week. 

“It was the first time any of us saw him in person,” she says. “He just smiled at us and said ‘hello’.” 

Abducted, drugged and tortured

Lizzie Sefolo says she has put the past to bed after reburying the remains of her husband, Harold, in 2007. 

He and two other anti-apartheid activists were abducted, drugged and tortured by security policemen in 1987. It was alleged that the drugs they were injected with, and the bombs used to blow up their bodies, were manufactured and provided by Basson. 

Sefolo only learned about her husband’s gruesome death during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings in 1996. He and the two other activists were “abducted, tortured and taken to the North West where they were blown to pieces”. 

Sefolo has tried her best to forget the past and move on with her life. “I don’t hate him [Basson]. I believe that it is the devil that drags us to [do] such things,” she says. “It is only when my children trouble me that I start thinking about the perpetrators. If it was not for them, my life would be alright. I had to raise six children on my own.” She smiles sadly. “But I think Harold would be very proud if he saw them today. I tried my best to give his children the life he wanted them to have.”

However, Ntuli wants the man dubbed “Dr Death” to atone for his alleged actions. “I don’t hate him; he is a human being like me,” she says, shaking her head. “If he came to us and asked for forgiveness, we will forgive him. But he must tell us why he did those terrible things.” 

Ntuli hopes that the conclusion of Basson’s hearing will bring closure to her family, who have been haunted by her son’s death for almost 30 years. 

“We never forget. It upsets my children that they are still speaking about Jeremiah after all these years.” 

Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa.