What is Traditional, Cultural and Religious Use?
Traditional, Cultural and Religious use of Cannabis covers the widespread historical and current use amongst
people, traditional healers and members of the Rastafari religion.
The word ‘Dagga’ originates from an old Khoi word ‘dacha’ which was originally their name for leonotis leonurus, so called Rooi dagga, Wilde dagga or Klipdagga which was smoked by the Khoikhoi in the same way as tobacco.
There appears to be confusion in the early literature between Cannabis and Leonotis leonurus. It appears that ‘daccha’ was the generally adopted term of all narcotics – both smoked and chewed.
History of Cannabis in South Africa
Historians believe that Arab and Indian traders brought Cannabis to the continent as long as a 1000 years ago. Local tribes had been producing and using the plant for a very long time before European immigrants came; in fact, the Afrikaans name “dagga” was derived from the Khoi word “dacha.”
Cannabis evidently grew wild and was openly sold by mine storekeepers in a broad section of South Africa until 1921; the plant was only completely criminalized in 1928 based on the then-dominant moral reasons.
Although the plant is not native to Africa, several cultural, religious, and medical Cannabis smoking customs have emerged since it was first brought to the continent. In a continual effort to include all South Africans in the conversation, we interact with diverse communities to learn about their circumstances.
Indigenous Knowledge System
The Department of Science and Technology, together with all of its stakeholders, is delighted about Cabinet’s adoption of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Policy. It is a solid policy that brings together important factors that function as catalysts for the growth and financial viability of holders and IKS practitioners.
The fundamental fact is that the majority of South Africans’ survival and welfare have always depended heavily on indigenous knowledge, and this hasn’t changed. The goal of the policy is to acknowledge this, affirm it, further develop it, promote it, and safeguard the keepers and practitioners of this knowledge.
Protecting Farming Communities
The importance of protecting biological diversity also informs some international protections for Cannabis farming communities. In particular, the 2004 Convention on Biological Diversity and its Protocols42 helped to shape most countries’ legislation and policies on the protection of traditional knowledge, bioprospecting, access and benefit sharing, plant variety protection and plant breeders’ rights and, more generally, the sustainable use of crop genetic resources.
Each of these elements is key to a smooth, respectful transition to legal settings for historical Cannabis farming communities. In a similar manner, South Africa is currently taking part, in Geneva, in negotiations for a future treaty to ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. Both the international negotiation and our local Cannabis regulations would benefit from increased dialogue with experts on this matter.
In January 2016 a global meeting took place where small scale farmers of Cannabis, Coca and Opium – from 14 countries – discussed their contribution to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). You can read more about the Heemskerk Declaration here.
An Annexure to our High Court Evidence
An article written by South African historian and one of our expert witnesses, Craig Paterson, is a significant annexure to our High Court evidence in The Trial of the Plant.
From extensive interviews with growers, smugglers and dealers, to digging through old government papers, Craig explains why the Cannabis trade has taken the form that it has today, including why it was made illegal.
His research interests have been histories of domestic plants and animals, and histories of things that are illegal or unregulated. He also does consultancy work for various government departments, mainly around polices dealing with cultural and heritage issues.
Our Activism for the Traditional, Cultural and Religious Communities
Fields of Green for ALL seeks to create a supportive community through engaged citizens to lessen the stigmatization brought on by the 100-year prohibition of the Cannabis plant. We aim to legalise the unregulated and otherwise unlawful commerce in this plant, which has long been a staple of South African tradition.
We hear you, Rastafarians, rural communities, and traditional leaders and healers!
We focus on national grassroots campaigning to spread our message to those who are not lucky enough to have access to Cannabis information by privileged methods because we recognize that only a small portion of the South African Cannabis community has access to internet platforms.
We must remember our past and put an end to the marginalisation of groups who use this plant in ceremonies and in line with their own, individual beliefs and practices. Fields of Green for ALL pushes for the legalisation of Cannabis for ALL uses for ALL South Africans.
Cannabis and the Rastafari
The Rastafarian community is one that needs special mention because Cannabis cultivation and use forms an integral part of their religious traditions, yet they have continued to be profiled and victimised by law enforcement. Despite the Constitutional Court ruling meant to protect Cannabis users and growers, Fields of Green for ALL are aware of an incident where a member of the Rasta community was beaten to death by the police in front of his family. The case is ongoing but we are yet to hear of any justice served for this heinous crime.
Legacy Dagga Cultivation and Landraces
Cannabis thrives outdoors and can produce large crop yields when cared for. The vast majority of Cannabis in South Africa is grown outdoors under varying conditions. This is the simplest method of cultivation but there is a risk of crop damage and eradication due to inclement weather, pests or the police. Legacy outdoor cultivation in the rural areas is linked to local endemic varieties of the plant (called “landraces”). These landraces, specific to local conditions of cultivation and traditional processing methods, constitute true sources of biological diversity that deserve adequate protection. These landraces are also renowned internationally and are the basis for many newly bred Cannabis plant varieties and cultivars worldwide, but also a potential drawcard for rural Cannabis tourism.
Traditional Use of Cannabis and Minors
Supplying minors with Cannabis within family, traditional or religious settings should be seen in the same way as alcohol. The Catholic church gives wine to minors as a sacrament, albeit in very small quantities, so the same must apply to the Rastafari religion, where Cannabis is given to minors. It is, however, recommended that Cannabis supplied to minors in this context should be of very low THC content.
Schools and educational facilities cannot treat Cannabis-related infringements worse than those of more harmful drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Drug education pertaining to Cannabis must be updated to reflect the latest scientific findings and thus be appropriate and relevant. The aim is to strongly discourage the use or possession of Cannabis within a school or learning environment, without using fear as the main motivation. Fortunately the judicial system in South Africa is beginning to take notice of the Constitutional Court ruling in favour of minors and their rights pertaining to Cannabis. In July 2020, the Johannesburg High Court ruled that the criminalisation of possession and/or use of Cannabis by children is unconstitutional. The case was based on a child failing a school drug test for Cannabis use and as a result being subjected to the criminal justice system.
The court noted that:
“…although there is a legitimate governmental purpose to protect children from the use and abuse of substances that are harmful to them, putting them through the criminal justice system as far as the use or abuse of Cannabis is concerned, is not an effective and appropriate manner to achieve this purpose.”
Watch These Videos Related to Traditional Use of Cannabis
More Reading on the Traditional Use of Dagga in South Africa
10 Crisis Points (In Our Cannabis Legislation Journey) – 2023 Revision
A slightly more in-depth look at the 10 Crisis