Dr Wouter Basson

Pretoria - Illness has again put a spoke in the wheels of Cape Town cardiologist Wouter Basson's ethical conduct hearing.

Basson's hearing on charges of unethical conduct before a professional conduct committee of the Health Professions Council was supposed to resume on Thursday.

The charges stem from his involvement in the apartheid government's chemical and biological warfare programme in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Basson's legal representative Jaap Cilliers SC applied for a postponement until April because two of Basson's witnesses were not available because of illness.

Toxicologist Prof Gert Muller of Stellenbosch University was to have given evidence on Thursday, but had a heart attack a few weeks ago.

Cilliers handed in a medical certificate from Muller's cardiologist that he was not allowed to travel by air and would not be able to testify.

Former surgeon general Dr Niel Knobel, who was to have resumed his evidence, was still recuperating from open-heart surgery earlier this year.

The hearing was delayed in September when the legal assessor, retired judge president Prof Frikkie Eloff, 80, was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Eloff was back at the hearing on Thursday. Basson was not present for the postponement.

Pro forma prosecutor Salie Joubert said it was expected that evidence in the hearing would be concluded within a week.

Final argument in the hearing will only be presented in July next year.

Basson is accused of acting unethically by being involved in the large-scale production of Mandrax, cocaine and tear-gas, of weaponising teargas and of supplying it to Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

He is also accused of acting unethically by providing disorientating substances for cross-border kidnappings and making cyanide capsules available for distribution to operatives for use in committing suicide.

United States medical ethics expert Prof Steven Miles previously testified that Basson had violated the laws of humanity and various World Medical Association declarations and regulations.

In contrast, Knobel said Basson had been a soldier and not a doctor when he headed the chemical and biological warfare programme.

Knobel also disagreed with Miles' view that once you were a doctor, you remained a doctor and that Basson had made use of his medical knowledge and skills when he headed the programme.

It was Basson's case that the surgeon general at the time had been in overall charge of the programme and that he had only carried out orders as a soldier.