Ten Weeks in South Africa

South Africa first banned cannabis in 1911. Along with Egypt, it led the fight in the League of Nations to have it prohibited world-wide. South Africa’s system of racial separation (apartheid) gained it general condemnation and sanctions. In April of this year South Africa held its first multi-racial elections, hopefully ushering in an era of peaceful change and further evolution. -Ed

During this past summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend ten weeks in South Africa.

During my trip I was able to visit all of the country’s major cities and meet with a wide cross section of people, although I generally stayed with family members when possible. I also had many opportunities to sample the local strains of cannabis, and in turn I spread information about the wonders of cannabis hemp and the growth of the anti-prohibitionist movement both in Vancouver and North America in general.

My first discovery was that cannabis is called “dagga” (pronounced with a guttural “g”) by South Africans, and I was informed by my Aunt that for many years she was interested in trying this “marijuana” smoked by American beatniks but had little interest in the local “dagga”. She was both pleased and surprised when she discovered that they were one and the same, and she hasn’t looked back since.


I spent more time in Johannesburg than in any other South African city. Although I did not know any of my native family members at all, I was pleased to find my cousin offering me a joint the day after my arrival. She didn’t have very good connections though, and my first purchase from an acquaintance of hers was also the lowest quality that I saw in the country.

I bought three “cobs”, a cob being a small corn husk filled with dried herb, for a cost of 15 rand ($6 Canadian) each. Each cob held about six grams of actual herb once the seeds and stalk had been strained out. It didn’t have more seeds than anything else I saw, but it was off brown in colour and seemed to have been mixed or flavoured with tobacco. It was also a bit raunchy to smoke, but it was definitely cannabis and if you smoked enough of it it was enjoyable.

From what I was told, a better grade of dagga could be found wrapped in cobs than what I tried. Malawi is a small land-locked country north of South Africa, separated from it by the coastal country of Mozambique. Most of the pot found in cobs has its origin in Malawi, and thus the term “Malawi Cob”. The purpose of the cob is to provide a secure and waterproof wrapping so that it can be transported by being floated downriver. I was told that this was a common technique for transport over borders or long distances.

The best stuff I smoked while I was there was “Swazi Gold”. Swaziland is a small country situated in the northeastern corner of South Africa. The pot gave me a light, almost floating high. I never managed to buy very much of this for myself, but it was provided to me by various friends with superior connections.


Grahamstown is a small town full of students who attend Rhodes University. Once a year the town’s population swells as the town hosts a variety of performing artists and celebrates the Grahamstown Festival. This year’s festival was larger than any previous because this was the first to be held in the “New South Africa” and the populace was in a mood to celebrate. I attended the festival and stayed in a house full of students, about thirty in all, spread through every room and onto the lawn. I was hard pressed to keep up with the steady pace of intoxicated partying set by these young South Africans.

I tried some of the local LSD a few times at the festival, not a usual habit but the occasion seemed like a good excuse. Although I was told frequently about the great microdots that were going around, neither I nor anyone I met had actually seen any. I took some paper with the sanskrit “ohm” symbol printed on it. It was clean and pleasant, not incredibly powerful but sufficient for a pleasantly bewildering trip. At the going rate of around R40 ($16 Cdn) a hit the cost was a bit excessive, but perhaps an incentive for any would be travellers to bring along a vial or two of our local liquid to help fund their trip.

Most of the cannabis available at the festival was from the Transkei, an independent homeland on the coast between Grahamstown and Durban. I bought a few bags from a friendly fellow who lived on his parents’ farm and assured me he spoke fluent Xhosa, which allowed him to get a very good price. It was generally available in a “bankie”, a plastic ziploc used to hold banknotes, at a cost of R20 ($8 Cdn) for about five to seven grams, once strained of stems and seeds. This grass was of consistent quality wherever purchased.

Cape Town

After the Grahamstown Festival I went to Cape Town, a city which reminded me of Vancouver more than anywhere else in South Africa. Although I enjoyed the city and climbed Table Mountain a few times, I didn’t buy any pot there and instead relaxed and relied on my left-overs from Grahamstown. Table Mountain rises majestically out of the heart of the city and is an amazing climb. Of course it has many beautiful places to get high and enjoy spectacular views.


Durban is a large, coastal city with amazing beaches, many casinos and escort services, and the largest population of East Indians to be found outside of India. Near the heart of the Indian part of the city is something called the Victoria Street Market, otherwise known as the Indian Market, a large cubic edifice which is home to a great number of curio shops full of brassware and verdite carvings, among other popular tourist items such as carved animals and masks. My experience was that everything in every store was immediately half off the ticket price, “special for me”, and to look at any brass waterpipe was to invite the question of whether I wanted something to put in it. The general pricing rule seemed to be that you paid as much as you could be convinced to pay, and I made a few purchases here at different times.

I bought 10 fingers of Durban Poison for 30 Rand ($12 Cdn), each finger providing one moderate joint, and didn’t have any seeds or stem to be removed. I also paid 20 Rand ($8 Cdn) for a shiny black rock of what the seller claimed was opium but seemed more like a hash oil mixture. It didn’t burn too well and had an extremely bitter taste, but swallowing a small amount had a noticeable effect.

I also purchased a small block about the size of three dice of what seemed to be a tar and sugar mixture. It had a very sweet taste and could be eaten without much difficulty. Unfortunately, I was staying in a house with a pair of bull terriers, and one of them managed to open the door of my room while I was outside. By the time I returned the dog (Bowser by name) had consumed the sugarhash block. Bull terriers being what they are we noticed no subsequent change in the dog’s behaviour.

If you are in Durban and visit the Indian Market, I would recommend Shop #39- Parish Curios, and tell Sean that Dana the Canadian sent you.


Every South African city has at least one township attached to it, the segregation of races being a result of the policy of apartheid. Another phenomenon is a squatter camp, where people simply move into an unclaimed area and make it their home. The standard of living in townships and squatter camps is dramatically lower than that of the city proper, although conditions are changing and improving now that there are no longer any legal restrictions governing who may live where.

I visited a squatter camp outside of Pietermaritzburg to buy some dagga from someone known to my cousins. We entered a small home built mostly from dried clay and mud on a wire mesh. The owner had a few friends over, they were sitting on a small bench against a wall, a mother nursing her baby and two men sharing a joint rolled in a newspaper. This seemed to be an common means of smoking dagga among the black population.

He showed me a large plastic bag full of cannabis, and I ended up buying about an ounce at a cost of 30 Rand, ($12 Cdn). The quality was comparable to the Durban Poison and it looked to be the same breed, and this was sufficient to last me through to the end of my trip.

Hemp Activists in the New South Africa

While I was in Johannesburg I was able to learn a little bit about the state of the anti-prohibitionist movement in South Africa. I met with Jupita Jong, founder of an organization called the Rastafarian Unity Movement Alliance (RUMA), who explained to me the recent efforts of his organization. When Mandela came to power there was something of a general amnesty and many prisoners, both political and otherwise, were released from prison or given leniency in terms of parole. Jupita had been calling for a release of the ganja prisoners during this time, and although he was unsuccessful in achieving any early releases, his efforts did gain him quite a bit of media coverage. I gave Mr Jong some copies of local information and newsletters, as well as a copy of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” for his personal use. Although well versed in the concepts of religious freedom and social tolerance which backed his efforts to legalize cannabis, there was not a great deal of information about the other uses for the cannabis hemp plant available to him in the country. I encouraged him to copy and spread the information that I had given him.

Another cannabis-related forum I saw was a magazine called “High Life”, which contained an interesting mix of the local music and arts scene and marijuana-related stories and information. The fact that a publication such as this can find an audience shows that the cannabis sub-culture is alive and well in South Africa.

What Does the Future Hold?

The future of the war on drugs in South Africa is by no means clear. Although the country has gone through massive changes and is now making an effort to remove all traces of racism and injustice from their legal system, there are still many forces at work to maintain the status quo in regard to drug control legislation. Most people I talked to felt that dagga should be legalized in some form and were aware of the medicinal value of the plant, although only a minority supported the same tolerance being shown towards other drugs. There was only rudimentary knowledge about the textiles and fuels which can be produced from cannabis, and most people were not aware of the food value of the seeds.

I saw an interesting mix of articles in the local newspapers. Many of the stories in the mainstream press had headlines such as “Drug lords eye SA as a new base”, warning that the new freedom of South Africa would bring increased drug trafficking along with it. I did however see a favourable article about a woman in Cape Town who makes “dagga tea” for medicinal use, and a featured letter entitled “My right to get stoned”. Both of these appeared in “You Maga-zine”, a national publication that contains the TV listings and mostly entertainment news.

Although the anti-prohibitionist movement seemed small when I was there, the atmosphere in the country should allow for increased awareness about the effects of criminal drug prohibition and the benefits of agricultural cannabis. Most of those who have been active for political freedom in South Africa have had their energies tied up in the monumental task of ending apartheid. Now that this has been accomplished there may be enough momentum to allow the process to continue and perhaps even pass the western democracies in terms of individual freedom and ending the war on drugs.