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This is from the History of Cannabis in South Africa, but these apartheid laws were adopted by Namibia so this applies to us and it’s imperative to understand the historyof why this plant was made illegal.













After hundreds of years of Cannabis being used across Africa, South Africa had the dubious distinction of becoming the first country where one population group imposed the prohibition of Cannabis on another population group. The British settlers of the late 19th century disliked their Hindu labourers using bhang as a sacrament in the sugar cane fields of the Natal Colony. In a 1885 report, colonial observers found “‘it renders the Indian immigrant unfit and unable to perform with satisfaction to the employer, that work for which he was specially brought to this colony”.

The prohibition of Cannabis in South Africa was subsequently built on similarly racist perceptions. The Medical and Pharmacy Act of 1891 classified Cannabis indica (Indian Hemp) as a poison, and when the Union Of South Africa was established in 1910, a ban on the sale and consumption of Indian Hemp (Dakka) for all population groups was promulgated nationally. Just more than a decade later, as South Africa was passing the Customs and Excise Duties Act, No.27 of 1924, ratifying the national ban on Dagga, the League of Nations was drafting laws to ban the use and sale of opium. A timely letter from the South African government concerning “Indian Hemp” and an impassioned plea by the King of Egypt concerning “hashish”, brought Cannabis sativa into the League’s spotlight. The timing of then SA prime minister Jan Smuts’s letter to the League of Nations was no coincidence. The Smuts communique was a political tactic – it conflated opium and cannabis policy, and became a bargaining chip at the opium table for the British. This was a pivotal moment for international drug policy, for South Africa and for the Cannabis plant. South Africa’s intervention on the international drug-policy stage was a critical step leading to the global prohibition of Cannabis.


Successive South African governments in the 1940s and 1950s conducted an almost obsessive amount of research into Dagga. This culminated in the 1952 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Abuse Of Dagga (RIDCAD). It was hailed as a ground-breaking publication in its day, but the report was thin on scientific evidence, even if it did recommend a more scientific approach to the substance. Regardless, it had little or nothing good to say about Dagga or the people that used it. It was obvious from the tone of RIDCAD that South Africa would become a signatory to the United Nations Single Convention on Drugs in 1961. This document remains the apex of world drug policy and has changed little in almost 60 years. It has been a popular treaty for successive South African governments to hide behind. Whenever there are calls for domestic drug-policy reform, governments cite their obligations under the international treaty as a reason why this is impossible. However, the wheel turns slowly, and contemporary opinions around drug policy and Cannabis use have become far more enlightened. Drug policy is changing worldwide, and it can change in South Africa too. We just need our government to pay attention. When the United Nations ratified the 1971 Convention On Psychotropic Drugs (signed by South Africa), US President Richard Nixon was launching his “all out war on drugs”. South Africa, on cue, passed the draconian Abuse of Dependence Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act of 1971. More than 77 000 citizens, the overwhelming majority black males, were incarcerated within two years of the Act being passed. Not only was this another example of racist law disgused as drug policy, it was the most punitive piece of Apartheid legislation to have been passed at the time. The Act not only criminalised users, but also slapped farmers and traders with minimum mandatory sentences and the presumption of guilt before innocence. In the mid 1980s, the UN passed more drug-war resolutions, encouraging an even tougher stance in member countries, with increased sentencing and incarceration measures. As a result, The Drugs & Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 (the Drugs Act) came about as an amendment to the 1971 Act. It remains the current law dealing with illicit drugs, including Dagga, in South Africa.


1992 Drugs Act as the last apartheid law. We see both the Act and the proposed Bill as a cut and paste progression, encompassing 150 years of laws and punishments with roots in colonial racism and moral judgement, not scientific evidence. We wish to remind the lawmakers of this. We challenge the parliamentarians in charge of this process to accept our offer to start the proceedings with a presentation on The History of Cannabis in Africa. We suggest beginning with a look at the word “Dagga” itself; how it is steeped in historical prejudice and superstition, almost a plant version of the tokoloshe. The word Dagga is still being brought up in regular emails to us by South Africans who really despise this five-letter word. The word is thousands of years older than the prohibition of the plant and derives from a now-extinct Khoe linguistic description of intoxication – not Cannabis. The repeal of Cannabis-prohibition laws, and the rewriting of the offending legislation will give the South African government a chance to apologise for continuing to impose unjust, irrational colonial laws on its citizens, even beyond the fall of apartheid in 1994. Our government has perpetuated a colonial legacy with the arrest and detention of hundreds of thousands of citizens, some of whom remain behind bars to this day. Cannabis must no longer be a criminal offence. International drug treaties can no longer be an excuse for inaction. Countries such as Uruguay and Canada have fully legalised all uses of the plant, and more than half of the states of the USA now have medical and/or adult-use laws in place.

It’s actually one of the most important ancient traditional medicines the planet has. It arrived in western medicine in the 19th century and was widely used in the official pharmacopoeia for more than a century.

Actually, the plant has been illegal for less than 1% of the time it’s been used.

Why Cannabis is illegal in Africa


Southern Africa has a rich history of Cannabis use & a disgraceful history of Cannabis prohibition that few people are aware of. The prohibition of Cannabis manifested because the colonialist rulers believed it sapped the vitality of their workers. Therefore, they banned the substance and use thereof. Part of our legalization aim is about paving the way for the future of Cannabis in Namibia and to amend the mistakes of this past. We inherited the Colonial, racist cannabis prohibition laws of South Africa.

First, we must understand the history:


Late 19th century:

The British Army settlers disliked their Hindu slaves using Cannabis or “bhang” as a sacrament in the sugar cane fields of the (Kwa-Zulu) Natal Colony. The colonialists concluded that consumption of Cannabis rendered their slaves unfit for working at the expected standard. 



The Union of South Africa was established, and with it a ban on the sale and consumption of Indian Hemp (Cannabis) for all population groups was implemented.


1940’s – 1950’s:

South African governments undertook an obsessive amount of research concerning Cannabis. This culminated in the 1952 ‘Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Abuse of Dagga’ (RIDCAD), a “ground-breaking” publication in its day, but with no scientific evidence. It spread negative information regarding Cannabis and it’s effects.


South Africa passed the ‘Abuse of Dependence Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act of 1971’ leading to the arrest of over 77,000 citizens (with the majority being African males).



The Drugs & Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 came about as an amendment to the 1971 Act, and is the current law dealing with illicit drugs, including Dagga, in South Africa.

Cannabis prohibition was built on racist foundations that supported the exploitation of slaves.


Cannabis history in Namibia

It’s thought that cannabis first arrived in Namibia at some point before the 15th century, though there’s no available evidence to prove exactly when. Like much of the continent, the plant probably came to the country with the Bantu-speaking traders, and then was swiftly embraced as a valuable crop. 


Since then, cannabis has been used by the tribal people of Namibia, for spiritual, recreational and medicinal purposes. The Bashilange (sometimes called Tushilange) people are a particularly interesting example. Prior to the 18th/19th century, they were known for being warlike; exploiting neighbouring tribes through use of force.

Then, they began using cannabis, and started to worship the plant. Their cultural practices became noticeably more peaceful – though obviously, it’s impossible to confirm if this was solely due to cannabis or not. They went on to form a religious society called the Bena-Riamba; a name that

translates as ‘sons of cannabis’.

Regrettably, the peace was short-lived. The peaceful Bashilange ceased demanding so much tribute from the other tribes, and their wealth began to dwindle. This led to a coup in 1876, where some younger individuals overthrew the Council of Elders, and seized control of the tribe. The former aggressive practices of the tribe were immediately restored. 


Present situation in Namibia


Although a handful of countries across the continent are moving into post-prohibition, Namibia which shares a nearly 1000km long border with South Africa remains strictly prohibitive and illegal although CBD and related products are somewhat tolerated. There is more and more hemp products coming from South Africa or from Europe that are on the super market shelves, but our regulations only permit 0.001% of THC and only strictly for topical use.

Since the laws in Namibia do not clearly distinguish hemp fromcannabis, an individual citizen found growing hemp, are summarily arrested. At present, South Africa’s regulation changes hasn’t encouraged our government to take similar steps even though we are seeing some CBD creams and oils on supermarket shelves being tolerated, but mostly the laws remain very strict and rigorously enforced.

Namibia has the opportunity to create a dynamic, highly opportunistic, forward-looking industry, serving the fast-growing cannabis and hemp industries in Africa and around the globe. Cannabis and hemp cultivation and their various products are currently some of the fastest growing industries in the United States, Canada and many other parts of the world. It is projected that when recreational use is universally adopted, the total market value will be in excess of that of spirits and beer.

The current strategy for South African cultivators is to supply and work with compliant distributors and producers of the world to create a sustainable business model and develop their growth-oriented market opportunity. South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia have already approved licenses to produce hemp and medical cannabis products.

“The Native view that there is nothing reprehensible about dagga-smoking in itself, as distinct from smoking to excess which is frowned upon, has not been changed by the fact that the law of the white man now forbids the practice. In rural areas the Natives of several groups, notably the Zulu and Xhosa-speaking ones, still remain entirely unconvinced that there is anything wrong or detrimental in the moderate use of dagga.” South African governmental committee, 1952

“Amongst Europeans, dagga-smoking is generally regarded as a vice and in consequence it is hardly ever practised by persons who are, or wish to be thought, respectable. From the evidence it would appear that the habit is largely confined to vagrant - (hoboes, tramps) and criminals. Some female vagrants and prostitutes also seem to have taken to the habit.” RIDCAD 1952

​“The smoking of Hemp renders Indian immigrants unfit and unable to perform with satisfaction to their employer, that work for which he was specially brought to this colony.” Report of the Indian Immigrants Comission, Natal, South Africa, 1885.

 Zambia: “Zambia's cabinet has approved the publication and introduction of a bill in parliament for the legalization of the cultivation of cannabis, a government spokesperson said on Tuesday 


Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya said the decision was made during a virtual cabinet meeting held on Monday, March 1.


She said in a release that the bill was meant to provide for the regulation of the cultivation, production, storage, and distribution of cannabis for medicinal, scientific, and research purposes” – 1 March 2021


Malawi: “Malawi is ready to start commercial production and processing of cannabis for medicinal and industrial use, the southern African country’s new Cannabis Regulatory Authority said on Tuesday.


Malawi’s parliament passed a bill in February that makes it legal to cultivate and process cannabis for medicines and hemp fiber used in industry, but stops short of decriminalizing recreational use” – November 2020


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