The National Cannabis Master Plan aims to empower people like the Lofani family, hardy cannabis entrepreneurs who are putting a lot of food on the table for several villages in former Transkei. These villages are on marginal land, far from markets and over generations have developed a unique cannabis gene pool and an indigenous knowledge system around cultivation.
The Department of Agriculture has identified communities such as this as being key to the development of a local cannabis economy. The Eastern Cape premier said in his SOPA that the Province was looking at support strategies for traditional growers, who he said were in danger of being marginalized by cannabis reform. Oscar Mbuyane says an unleashed cannabis economy had the potential to transform the lives of the rural poor, people like the Lofani’s.
So why aren’t the Lofani brothers looking a bit more upbeat at all this good news?
Well, Lindelani (44), Hlalanathi (46) and Mzimasi (41) Lofani are among six men facing charges under the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 as well contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) 121 of 1998, for dealing in what police say is a “large quantity” of cannabis. They, along with Somleze Nkawule, 32, and Bongani Kenny Mgqatse, 51, and an unnamed sixth man arrested in Queenstown on 10 March 2022, are accused of running a “drug-dealing syndicate”. All are due to appear again in the George’s Magistrate Court on 28 March 2022, the day after the Cape Town Cannabis Expo closes and the cannabis elite are counting their cash.
From the charge sheet it appears that the group had set up a communal cannabis marketing scheme for several villages and a distribution channel into the Eastern Cape metros and Garden Route. Hawks spokesperson Zinzi Hani has proudly hailed the operation as a “great success”, describing the men as a “suspected organised crime group that was allegedly sourcing cannabis from rural villages of the Eastern Cape. They would then distribute it in the Southern Cape outlets.”
It Took a Lot of State Resources to Denude a Handful of Transkei Villages Their Livelihood
It must be said it took a lot of state resources to bring down the “Lofani syndicate”. Hani said it was a “multidisciplinary operation” that involved raiding several villages and homesteads. The first raids were carried out on 31 January 2022 by the Hawks Serious Organized Crime team from George and Ggeberha (Port Elizabeth) along with the George K9 Unit, the Public Order Police (POP) of the Southern Cape as well as crime intelligence personnel from Outdshoorn and Motherwell.
All that to rip the heart out of a remote rural community that lies completely outside of the real criminal syndicates that deal in narcotics, people, weapons, abalone or cars. At least five unnamed villages will be deprived of income in the year ahead and their breadwinners will most likely be put behind bars – only to be released in a few years with the expungement that is likely to be included in future cannabis legislation! Their crime? Trying to make a living out of a plant which is ideally suited to their climate and topography and that the Constitutional Court has decriminalized and the Government is seeking to legalize.
So one has to ask why the SAPS continue to persecute the people of Mpondoland? One view advanced by activist organization Fields of Green for All (FGFA) is that it all comes down to the police preying on the most vulnerable to fulfil the required quota of arrests to be seen to be “bringing down crime”. Whatever the explanation, the price being paid for government’s own policy confusion is by the people who can least afford it.
The Worst Injustices Have Been Visited on Mpondoland in the “New” South Africa
By Government’s own estimation there are over 700 000 “illegal” cannabis growers in South Africa, mostly concentrated in Mpondoland in the Eastern Cape and rural areas in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumulanga and Limpopo. For generations these farming communities have had to fight tooth and nail, first against the Colonial and Apartheid governments and then against the ANC Government to maintain their livelihoods.
The worst human rights abuses were inflicted on the people of Mpondoland by the new, democratically-elected ANC which introduced a cannabis eradication programme, with the SAPS using helicopters to spray glyphosphate on remote plantations with no care as to the cost to human or animal health. It was only through the efforts of the people themselves, through the uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network (UFSN), that forced the SAPS to stop their 10-year programme in 2015.
Perhaps a good Human Rights Day gesture would be for Government to open up a process of financial restitution for those affected by officially-sanctioned state poisoning.
No Place for the Custodians of Cannabis Culture in Current Licensing Regime
In reality, not much has changed over the years for the backbone of South Africa’s cannabis community who continue to bear the brunt of prohibitionist policies. They have little to celebrate in terms of human rights or economic justice. Traditional growers and healers find no place for themselves in the regulated market, neither do the street-corner hustlers of matchbox ‘majat’ or logistics guys like the Lofeni’s. They continue to endure arrests and harassment by the SAPS and are locked out of the licensing regime which is geared to favour Big Pharma despite the President’s positive spin on how cannabis is going to be a driver of the post-Covid economic recovery that would be “sweet news to our people”. The continued criminalization of cannabis communities is set to continue until such time as there is a legal, domestic adult-use market that recognizes existing realities and is appropriately regulated.
FGFA co-founder Myrtle Clark has not had her ‘Trial of the Plant’ removed from the court roll, despite the fact that the case was instrumental in leading to the historic 2018 Constitutional Court ‘decriminalization’ ruling, and her co-accused, Julian Stobbs is dead.
She said during the old the CND22 conference on 16 March 2022 that police resources were completely skewed in the cannabis space.
“My civil society friends around the world and the cannabis family in South Africa have been an enormous source of strength since the murder of my partner Julian in July 2020. There has been no investigation into his murder, yet the SAPS find the resources to continue to arrest and incarcerate citizens for cannabis offences every day in our country.”
Mr President, Give Meaning to Human Rights Day with an Executive Order to Halt Cannabis Arrests
There have been numerous calls for President Ramaphosa to issue an executive order to halt cannabis related arrests until new cannabis laws are put on the table, notably in a plea in Parliament last September on by UFSN lawyer Ricky Stone for the President to have his “Thuma Mina” moment and issue a firm directive to police to desist in their operations, particularly against rural communities.
There could not be a better day than 21 March 2022 for the President to issue this executive order. And put a halt to the Lofeni case as well.
And at the same time, the Government should commemorate the 22 Zulu warriors who were hanged on this day in 1957 at Pretoria Central for their role in the 1956 ‘Bergville Dagga War’. They were sentenced to death for defending their Drakensberg cannabis fields against an armed police raid, which, in the ensuing firefight, five policemen died. The fact that two of the policemen who were killed were white, was a mitigating factor in sending the men to the gallows.
The commemoration of Human Rights Day is empty in the absence of social justice.