Dagga Prohibition – The last remnant of Apartheid.

Apartheid-ailveColonial South Africa spearheaded prohibition of the cannabis plant on the basis of racist supremacist ideologies which saw the use of Dagga as a threat to the productivity of indentured Indian labor and as promoting indolence among black servants.

This collection of quotes from official reports clearly show that the original intent of Dagga prohibition was steeped in easing the continued oppression and exploitation of indigenous people to further the interest of the empire.

As we are strongly convinced that the smoking of hemp is as baneful to the Kaffir as to the Indian, we consider it is our duty to suggest that chemists, holding special licences subject to stamp duty, should be the only persons allowed by law to sell any portion of the hemp plant,whether wild or cultivated, to any person whomsoever, whether of white, Kaffir, or Indian descent.”  – Report of the Indian Immigrants Commission, 1885 – 1887  

Roster of Arrivals/Indentured Labourers in South Africa who were indentified by their numbers only. Picture source: book titled ‘From Cane Fields to Freedom’.

Employers have been familiar, for many years, with the evils consequent upon its use by their Indian servants.”  “They are unanimous in thinking that the smoking of hemp is injurious to the constitution of Indians, and the majority testify to the widespread habit of smoking it. To its use they attribute unsteadiness in the performance of work (and) incapacity for exertion” – Report of the Indian Immigrants Commission, 1885 – 1887

“agriculture is by no means unaffected since the effect upon farm labourers of the smoking of the herb greatly depreciates the quantity and value of the labour they would otherwise be capable of rendering.”  Cited in Chanock, The Making of South African Legal Culture (2001), p. 93

The Afrikaner Nationalist government saw dagga as a threat to their Aparthied laws as it broke down barriers between racial groups. The following excerpt from Craig Patterson’s Thesis;  ‘Prohibition & Resistance: A Socio-Political Exploration of the Changing Dynamics of the Southern African Cannabis Trade, c. 1850 – the present.’ , describes how Dagga use was stigmatised along racial lines:

” Under the heading Present Non-European Attitudes Towards Dagga-smoking, the Report dealt with each ‘racial group’ identified by the government. “The Native view that there is nothing reprehensible about dagga-smoking in itself,” it said, “has not been changed by the fact that the law of the white man now forbids the practice.”74 In the paragraph that follows the Commission addressed cannabis use in “the Coloured community.” Here, they made their view known by saying “[the ‘Coloured’ community] recognise the habit as a concomitant of poverty, backwardness, dirtiness, crime, unemployment and general lack of respectability.”

This immediately shows (through the use of the term ‘recognise’) that the authors retained the idea of the ‘native’s’ “backwardness,” but that the so-called “Coloured community” was somehow ‘less backward’ by recognising this ‘fact’. Similarly, the Commission said of “Asiatics” that “it is only the poorer classes who take to dagga-smoking and are, in consequence, looked down upon by the others.” While of “Europeans,” it says, “it is hardly ever practised by persons who are, or wish to be thought, respectable.” By linking ‘respectability’ with cannabis use, the Commission portrayed “natives,” as unapologetic cannabis users, to be less respectable. And while the “Coloured community” retained a degree of respectability, the presence of use in this segment of society still showed them to be less respectable than “Europeans,” who “hardly ever” used cannabis.”


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