Cannabis, Labour Law, African Traditions and PetroSA Collide; Costs Mfundo Marasi His Job
A PetroSA telecoms technician who was suspended after cannabis was detected in his blood when he returned from a traditional healer training programme, has lost his bid to have the state-owned company’s alcohol and substance abuse policy reviewed.
4 July 2023 at 09:00:00
Mfundo Marasi, who works at the oil giant’s Mossel Bay plant, argued that the use of dagga was an African custom as he approached the Labour Court seeking an order that PetroSA unfairly discriminated against him.
He also wanted three months’ compensation for the period he was allegedly suspended without pay; damages in the amount of R250 000 for the impairment of his dignity, past medical expenses and emotional distress; and an order that the alcohol and substance abuse policy be reviewed.
PetroSA had informed Marasi that in accordance with its policy, he had tested above the cut-off level of 50ng/ ml, and was deemed unfit for duty and suspended.
In his argument, Marasi claimed that he informed PetroSA in 2019 about his calling as a traditional healer in 2015.
“I informed my employers that my training involves the usage of cannabis, and that such calling can only be refused at great peril to the incumbent. My transfer was approved and I moved from Parow to Mossel Bay,” he said.
PetroSA argued that the purpose and scope of the policy was, among others, to ensure the maintenance of a safe working environment, and that it managed the risks of alcohol and substance abuse.
The court found that Marasi’s claims would not succeed.
Handing down judgment on Tuesday, Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker said: “In view of all of the above, Mr Marasi’s claims before this court cannot succeed. I am not inclined to make a costs order in this matter."
Mr Marasi came to court with a genuine and deeply held belief that he had been unfairly discriminated against.
It appears that his journey contributed to a greater awareness of his culture on the part of his employer.I fully expect he will continue to educate those he interacts with on his calling and the use of cannabis in relation thereto.I therefore make the following order that the applicant’s claims are dismissed.”
Director for the African National Healers Association, Willem Bronkhorst, said the matter of using cannabis at work was a tricky subject.
“My question would be whether or not he knew of the permitted limit.
“We do understand that this might have been a part of his training, but a person’s traditional beliefs can supersede work; where possible, these two spheres should go hand in hand. We should work to move towards that understanding where both parties reach an equilibrium,” he said.
The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) said the courts needed to better recognise African people and cultures.
Eastern Cape chairperson Nkosi Mwelo Nonkanyana said: “That judgment indicates that the courts are not transformed to be the people’s court. The Westernised court system needs to speak to our people more. In our view the matter needs to be appealed. He needs to approach a higher court. We are calling that all persecutions against people using drugs due to their religious beliefs be suspended; we are not in support of this judgment, it undermines the constitutional rights of traditional healers.”
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