PRIOR TO PROJECT COAST
Project Coast, initiated in 1981, was not South Africa's first experience of chemical warfare agent production. The country's involvement dates back to World War II when the Smuts government agreed to assist Britain in the manufacture of mustard gas.
According to a report, now unclassified, authored by Lt.-Col. D.J.C. Wiseman in 1951, chemical warfare production in South Africa was carried out at two factories, one of which was “sent out from the United Kingdom”. Wiseman noted that, while the two facilities were established with the purpose of producing mustard gas, “some phosphine capacity also existed”. Wiseman said the intention was that the South African factories would produce a limited number of weapons so that: “had gas warfare started, and, particularly had we [the United Kingdom] been involved in a gas war simultaneously with both Germany and Japan, South African's potential would have been a valuable reserve for supply to the Mediterranean or the Eastern and Australian theatres”.76
The Head of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) Applied Chemistry Unit in the 1970s, Dr J.P. De Villiers, noted77 that the one factory was located at Chloorkop near Johannesburg and the second was in Firgrove in the Cape. According to Wiseman: “The question of closing the mustard gas plants in South Africa had been considered in the summer of 1944, but it had been decided that 'trickle' production should be maintained until the close of the war in Europe as an alternative supply for the Far East and Australia in the event of the initiation of gas war in North West Europe. By the end of January, 1945, however, all available empty weapons and storage facilities in South Africa had been filled and it was agreed that production should cease and the plant be put to care and maintenance”. In July 1945 these plants were closed down.78