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Is Justice Minister Ronald Lamola Secretly Opposed to Cannabis Reform? And Why Hasn’t He Come Clean About “White-washing” Fraud at a Drug Rehab Centre?

Is Justice Minister Ronald Lamola Secretly Opposed to Cannabis Reform? And Why Hasn’t He Come Clean About “White-washing” Fraud at a Drug Rehab Centre?

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Ozzy Lamola sees cannabis as a drug and is anti-drugs. Is this personal whim is holding up cannabis reform as he’s completely off key with the rest of his Cabinet and is undermining his staunch political ally, Cyril Ramaphosa. He should also come clean on being paid millions of rands for a very dodgy investigation into a Lotteries funded drug rehabilitation centre back in 2019, which smells like a cover-up.

Brett Hilton-Barber

10 November 2022, 04:00:00

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola unsuccesfully opposed The Haze Club's (THC) bid to take the Private Grow Club model to the Supreme Court of Appeal.  However, his view that the Private Cannabis Clubs (PCC's) are mere fronts for drug dealers, was not bought by Judge Hayley Slingers of the Western Cape High Court, who said that even though she had ruled against the THC application to legally recognize PCC's, another court may come to a different conclusion.


Lamola's opposition to THC's leave to appeal is indicative of the Justice Minister's hardline approach to cannabis, which he sees as a narcotic, and the fact that he has oversight on all cannabis-related legislation, exposes a deep division on cannabis within Cabinet.


Cannabiz Africa sources say that he has not attended a single platform to discuss cannabis reform and is vehemently “anti-drugs”. His lack of co-operation has exposed him as the biggest single obstacle to cannabis reform in this country. Cannabiz Africa wonders whether he has a secret agenda that’s preventing him from implementing Government cannabis policy. We also wonder what his role was in allegedly covering up fraud at a National Lotteries Commission project before he was appointed to the Cabinet as a veil of secrecy hangs over the issue.


Lamola was one of two directors of law firm Ndobela Lamola Inc (NL Inc), which was paid R19 million by the National Lotteries Commission in 2019 for investigating fraud in a number of disbursments, including R27,5 million for the construction of a drug rehabilitation centre in Pretoria.


NL Inc was appointed to see whether there was any truth in media reports that a “hijacked” non-profit company Dhenze Primary Care was paid Lottery funds to build a drug rehab centre near Pretoria. The centre was never constructed the money disappeared, and it subsequently became known that 

Johannes Letwaba, the brother of the NLC’s Chief Operating Officer, Phillemon Letwaba, headed up a construction company that received the contract to build the centre.


Lamola’s firm effectively exonerated the original Dhenze stakeholders accused of the fraud and produced three reports for which it appears to have been paid millions of rand in legal fees. Its unclear whether Lamola personally benefited from the money, but the reports were  so bad that they were rejected by two successive Trade and Industry Ministers who found they relied on fraudulent documents in exonerating those accused of defrauding the NLC of at least R20 million, and possibly more. The NL Inc reports remain secret and there is ongoing litigation around the issue.


Lamola’s firm came in for heavy criticism from the Department of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who had oversight over NLC Funding. He laid out his concerns about the sloppy work in a letter to NL Inc, including the fact that they hadn’t bothered to do a site inspection.


The information below is drawn from News 24 archives


The NL Inc reports, which run to almost 700 pages, consist of voluminous annexures that include duplicate copies of documents, and numerous photocopied photographs that are barely legible. The reports are superficial, poorly researched and edited, and are littered with spelling mistakes and poor grammar. In some cases, annexures referred to are not appended.


The reports were alleged to include forged affidavits and proof of payment receipts, a bogus annual financial statement, and forged resolutions supposedly passed by Denzhe Primary Care. These include a resolution claiming that Denzhe’s founding directors had resigned and appointing three new directors, who were behind the hijacking of Denzhe. One of the resolutions also gave the three “new” directors signing powers on the company’s bank account.


The documents are included in annexures to the three reports, dated 3 March 2019, 3 May 2019 and 30 September 2019. The reports have never been made public.


When two of the reports were submitted to the National Lotteries Commission, Lamola was one of two directors of the firm, which still bears his name. His name features as a director on NL Inc letterheads included in the first two reports. At the time, the firm was small: it had two directors, three associates and two candidate attorneys.


Lamola was appointed to Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet on 30 May 2019, 27 days after NL Inc produced its second report. But he is recorded as having resigned as a director of NL Inc several months later, on 2 September 2019, according to Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission records.


The Daily Maverick reported on 21 July 2021:


It is not known how much NL Inc was paid for the three-part investigation, which was conducted over the course of 2019. But in a written answer to a question posed by Mat Cuthbert, the DA Trade and Industry shadow minister, Lotteries Commissioner Thabang Mampane said that NL Inc had earned over R19-million in fees for work done for the National Lotteries Commission between 2016 and 2020.

This answer to Parliament reveals that NL Inc booked more business with the commission than any other law firm between 2016 and 2020. NL Inc accounts for 25% of the R75.69-million paid to 37 law firms over the four year period.


Lamola was appointed to the Cabinet in May 2019, less than a month after the release of the firm’s second report and has emerged as one of Cyril Ramaphosa’s staunchest allies in the ANC and recently threw his hat in the ring for the position of ANC Deputy President.


Lamola resigned from NL Inc during the course of 2020 and it was no longer recorded in the MP’s book of outside interests from 2021.


The Justice Minister is the single individual in Government who is the major inhibitor to cannabis reform in this country because he’s essentially in charge of all new laws. Under the watch of this 39-year old prohibitionist from Bushbuckridge, proposed legislation affecting cannabis reflects nothing of Government’s intentions to open up a cannabis or hemp economy – instead his Departments continue to criminalize cannabis.


Is this because of a personal vendetta against the Department of Trade and Industry because of their rough treatment of his law firm before he joined Cabinet? DTI is desperately trying to create a framework for the legal trade in cannabis products, but the Department of Justice appears dead against this.


Cannabiz Africa understands that Lamola has not been co-operative in Goverment cannabis discussions and it is unclear whether presidential cannabis advisor Garth Strachan has actually succeeded in meeting him. Instead, the Justice Department is steaming ahead with a raft of cannabis-related legislation that is completely contradictory to Government’s own policy.


The most glaring problem is that the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Amendment Bill 2022, which is soon to become law, continues to criminalize cannabis, which means that the legacy farmers Government is trying to support, will continue to be open to police prosecution.


There’s a further political complication. Lamola is one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s staunchest allies in the ANC, even though he is completely at odds with the President on cannabis policy.


His first public statement when appointed to the cabinet in May 2019 was that his priority was to “clean the streets of drug dealers and abusers”.


He said he was frustrated at how “the justice system failed to deal with drug dealers” and wanted a “drug-free country”.  There is speculation within Parliament that Lamola personally intervened when state lawmakers removed cannabis from the Drugs Act and insisted that it remain defined as a narcotic. Cannabiz Africa has no proof of this, but Senior State Law Advisor Sarel Robbertse told Parliament that cannabis “was removed, and then re-inserted” in the Bill in order to “maintain the status quo”.


Lamola is also politically ambitious. He is keen to run for the deputy presidency of the ANC against Paul Mashatile. My colleague at the Financial Mail, Justice Malala writes that Lamola is someone to keep an eye on:


“He is one of very few people in the ANC right now who has the ethical grounding, the moral conviction, the reserves of energy, the policy nous, the intellectual depth and the bullheadedness needed to drive the philosophical and economic renewal the country needs if it is to save itself from destruction.


“Who is Lamola?" asks Malala, before answering: "He is a keen cyclist. He is open, soft-spoken, dignified and displays none of the conspiracist paranoia often found among ANC leaders. He does not flash his wealth, if he has any. If you disagree with him, he engages you with the facts and does not hurl insults. He is a genuinely nice guy."


He continues: "Unlike many ANC leaders who cannot seem to think independently and are married to the party line, even in private, those who follow policymaking in the ruling party know where Lamola stands on key economic issues, and they know he brings depth and conviction to those debates.”


Lamola works closely with the the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in clamping down on illegal cannabis exports from South Africa.


One of his most recent actions was in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Southern Africa, whereby 11 computers were donated to Mphaphuli Secondary School in Sibasa, Thohoyandou in August 2022. Mphaphuli happens to have been where Cyril Ramaphosa matriculated from in 1971!


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