In the bleakest of days during apartheid in South Africa, despite its membership of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, a programme to poison the regime's foes with chemical and biological warfare agents was conceived in great secrecy at the heart of the military establishment.
Project Coast was to develop a range of chemical and biological agents designed to control, poison and kill people within and outside South Africa. Large quantities of riot gas were produced, as were methaqualone and MDMA. Other chemical and biological agents were produced in small quantities and were used in the covert murders and attempted murders of individuals who were seen as a threat to the apartheid government. This included members of the police and the armed forces and, at least once, an organism was used with the intention of deliberately infecting a whole community.
That so much could have been done and by so few people during the era of sanctions was due to the secrecy and lack of civil control over the personnel involved and to the complicity of foreign actors. The project was funded through the back door and its leader was given carte blanche to do whatever he saw fit in terms of learning and buying what he could from abroad.
Project Coast: Apartheid's Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme written by Chandré Could and Peter Folb, tracks the history of Project Coast. It was through the revelations at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the arrest of Wouter Basson and then later the criminal prosecution of Basson in the High Court in Pretoria that the pieces of the puzzle could be fitted together. Of course, not everything is known and many documents are still missing, but enough has been revealed for us to learn some sobering lessons from South Africa's experience.
In the early nineties, coming clean about (and dismantling) its nuclear weapons programme allowed the new South Africa to take a moral lead in the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation and in pursuit of global nuclear disarmament. Perhaps in much the same way, the revelations over Project Coast and the transparency with which the South African