African King Arrested for Growing Weed Outside South African President's Office
King Khoisan publicly hit his weed pipe as he left the courthouse following his arrest.
Published on January 20, 2022

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A leader of the Khoisan Indigenous people was arrested last Wednesday on charges that his three-year-old protest camp was illegally growing and selling cannabis outside of South Africa’s presidential offices. Police clad in riot gear dragged King Khoisan out of the compound as he carried a cannabis plant, telling them, “This tree will not be removed. You will see some resistance.”

Three others were also arrested and charged with illegal cultivation and sale of what is popularly known in South Africa as “dagga,” reports The South African. King Khoisan was released on no-cost bail the following Thursday — and promptly hit his cannabis pipe upon leaving court.

“Police, I am telling you: You have declared war today,” he said on Wednesday before being loaded into a police car.

Khoisan activists have been camping on the lawns of the president’s offices, near a statue of Nelson Mandela, since 2018. They are demanding that the South African government recognize them as a First Nation, and that the ancient Khoisan tongues be recognized as official South African languages.

King Khoisan’s partner, Queen Cynthia, appeared in a video posted to Twitter explaining that the plants were for treating people with health conditions like high blood pressure.

“They’re looking for something illegal to remove us,” she said.

Africa is one of the cradles of global cannabis culture, and it's the site of the earliest records of people smoking the plant. South Africa is one of the African nations that has taken steps toward widening cannabis access in recent years. The country decriminalized private use and possession of marijuana for adults, and has a thriving cannabis pharmaceutical industry that began exporting cannabis to Europe last year. 

There has been criticism of the country’s regulatory system, which some say does not benefit the Black Indigenous people who have traditionally cultivated dagga. Last spring, the Black Farmers’ Association of South Africa held protests calling for the dissolution of what it sees as a deeply-biased federal agency that grants licenses primarily to big, foreign businesses.

The Khoisan did not have official permission to cultivate the plant in their gardens, where they also grow vegetables. Officials have been doubling down on their efforts to dislodge the protest movement from the president’s lawn. The camp spent Christmas without power, though that doesn’t seem to have discouraged its residents.

“Switching off the lights before Christmas did not bother us at all, we are the bushmen, we don’t need lights,” Khoisan said.

"I am very cross,” said King Khoisan’s partner, Queen Cynthia, after he was arrested. “We've been here since November 2018 and [President Cyril] Ramaphosa has never even taken a minute of his time to address or acknowledge our presence yet they now bring in police to torment us.”

“They can over-police us for plants,” repeated a Khoisan activist in a video of the arrest posted to Twitter. “You are rubbish people in uniforms.”

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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