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Mandela Said Targeted for Poisoning

June 10, 1998

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ South Africa’s apartheid-era government had plans to damage Nelson Mandela’s brain by slipping him a drug that attacks the nervous system, a scientist said today.

In testimony before a panel investigating apartheid crimes, Schalk van Rensburg said his superior, Andre Immelman, told him of the plans to disable Mandela by giving him thallium. The plot was discussed at the end of Mandela’s 27 years in prison and for a short time after his release in 1990.

``The intention, I understood, was to reduce his level of intellectuality and effectiveness by inducing brain damage,″ he said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is investigating the former apartheid army’s chemical and biological weapons projects, headed by Wouter Basson, who ran the operation through an elaborate network of front companies.

While there was no suggestion the poisoning scheme was ever carried out, the white-run apartheid government apparently did not want Mandela, who headed the African National Congress, to be a viable political opponent.

A 1986 report from the State Security Council, which coordinated the crackdown on anti-apartheid activists, suggested Mandela could be released only when he was in such a poor state of health that he could not continue to lead the ANC.

Van Rensburg said he had never seen the document.

Jaap Celliers, a lawyer representing Basson and other top scientists in the program, denied the document indicated a plot to poison Mandela.

Basson, who has been called to testify later this week, was forced to resign from the army in 1993 after a government report found him guilty of making poisons and chemical bombs. He is currently being investigated on charges of possessing the drugs ecstasy and mandrax, a depressant smoked with marijuana.

Earlier this week, scientists involved in Basson’s projects described working in a factory that churned out chocolates, drinks and cigarettes spiked with lethal chemicals used by government hit squads.

The scientists also testified that they developed large supplies of lethal microorganisms such as anthrax and cholera intended to cause epidemics.

Mandela and the ruling ANC, which came to power in South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994, set up the Truth Commission to help the country move beyond the violence of apartheid and promote racial healing.

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