Lubabalo Ngcukana, City Press
The head of the royal household in Mpondolad says local cannabis culture must be protected as 'Pondoland Gold” could be exploited by big business, leaving legacy growers in the cold.
This report was first published by City Press on 22 October 2023.
AmaMpondo King aseNyandeni Ndlovuyezwe Ndamase has urged his subjects to protect their prime asset, dagga, from being hijacked by big pharmaceutical organisations and international investors.
Speaking to City Press on Friday, 20 October 2023, Ndamase said it was important for amaMpondo to protect their own “gold”, since there were no mines in the Eastern Cape, where poverty was rife – especially in the OR Tambo region.
He said he had been inundated by big overseas companies wanting to invest in cannabis in the area, particularly in eastern Pondoland, where he was the monarch.
“A lot of interest’s being shown by people all over the world in growing dagga on our shores. It’s very expensive to grow dagga, but the good thing about it is that its profit’s even greater.
“It looks as if it’s being hijacked. Even my subjects come and tell me about the challenges they encounter daily because the law makes it difficult for them to operate,” he said.
The king has been championing the growing of dagga in his land.
He said that, although growing dagga was now legal in South Africa, obtaining a licence to do so was expensive, which put indigenous growers of the plant on the periphery of something they had been doing for many years.
Ndamase said the way the new licensing requirements were meant to benefit those with deep pockets. This was forcing his people to continue growing dagga illegally, as it was an important source of income for them.
The only way people could obtain a licence, he said, was by coming together and forming cooperatives and partnerships, so that they help each other financially.
The king said: "It’s now very expensive to grow dagga to international standards. However, while it’s clear that our people won’t stop growing it, we must encourage them to stop doing so illegally. The best way of doing that is by making the licence affordable".
He said it was important to help his subjects turn cannabis into a formal business model in order to help them overcome poverty. Growing the dagga, he said, was something they did well.
“There are people who’ve become doctors, lawyers and other important [professionals, thanks to money they earned] from selling dagga. Their parents sent them to school through dagga".
He said: "Dagga has helped to establish homes, which is why we call it ‘Pondoland gold’. This is our own asset."
He said amaMpondo needed to stay alert so that this asset was not hijacked by big industries which had no interest in uplifting his people.
He called on his subjects to register their own strain of dagga, as there were many others out there. In this way, it would be their own brand.
Explaining how expensive it was to grow cannabis, the king said one needed about R20 million to plant just 4 hectares of land.
“However, the good thing is that you get your money back in a short time,” he added.
Ndamase rules over towns such as Port St Johns, Libode and Ngqeleni.
Snoux Poswa, secretary of the Agricultural Primary Cooperative in OR Tambo, said a company in Cape Town was using the stem of Pondoland dagga to manufacture fire-resistant bricks and cement. The bricks were also mixed with lime for optimal resistance.
However, like Ndamase, he expressed concern about organisations trying to hijack amaMpondo’s livelihood instead of helping them grow their industry.
“Our plant variety’s created the problem of attracting sharks from all over the world who want to take away our business, but have no interest in developing us. That’s because our dagga has many pharmaceutical properties which help with diseases such as cancer and asthma. It even helps in veterinary medicine.
Poswa said: "For that reason, we need support to recover from our economic slumber and partially self-imposed slavery so that we can empower our people and create a brighter future".
Zimkitha Macingwane, spokesperson of the OR Tambo District Municipality, said the programme of cannabis development had begun after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2021 state of the nation address, in which he had announced government’s decision to develop the country’s cannabis/hemp industry.
“The provincial government appointed its department of rural development and agrarian reform to implement the programme. This plan is common, especially in the Pondoland area and some parts of Mhlontlo and King Sabata Dalindyebo.
“The province targeted two districts as the cannabis belts – OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo,” she said.