King Khoisan South Africa: South African police Wednesday uprooted cannabis plants grown by indigenous activists who have camped outside President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office for more than three years.
Their leader, wearing a traditional loincloth, clung to a shoulder-height plant as police dragged it across the presidential lawn in Pretoria before arresting him and three others.
“Police… you have declared war,” he shouted. “We have been here peacefully. We are coming for you,” warned King Khoisan South Africa.
The Khoisan were formerly known as Bushmen or Hottentots — a name coined by Dutch settlers in the 17h century, reflecting the clicks characteristic of their languages.
During the raid, another activist yelled in Afrikaans at the police, asking them: “For plants? For plants? You are rubbish people in uniforms.”
The group’s tarpaulin tents have been a fixture on the emerald lawns of the South African president’s office since 2018, when they began a campaign for official recognition of their languages.
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They began growing cannabis in their vegetable garden some six months ago.
One of the tents is just metres (yards) away from a giant bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.
Around two dozen police, some in riot gear, others mounted on horseback and some with sniffer dogs, raided the small group.
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Without giving names, police confirmed the arrests of three men and one woman, ranging in age from 22 to 54, at the Union Buildings.
“They were charged with dealing in dagga, illegal plantation and cultivation of dagga as well as failure to wear a face mask in public when ordered to do so by a police officer,” it said in a statement.
In 2018, South Africa’s top court decriminalised the private and personal use of cannabis in a landmark case that pitted law enforcement agencies against advocates of the plant, known locally as dagga.
South Africa’s Khoisan community is thought to number in the hundreds of thousands.
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King Khoisan South Africa was released on bail on Thursday, one day after his dramatic arrest.
He was granted no-cost bail and the case was adjourned until March. As he left the court, he promptly lit a pipe containing marijuana.
Protesters have camped at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s offices since 2018, demanding official recognition for Khoisan languages and other rights.
South Africa’s Khoisan were once known as Bushmen or Hottentots — a name coined by Dutch settlers in the 17h century, reflecting the clicks characteristic of their languages.
The demonstrators planted a vegetable garden there, but six months ago added cannabis plants that had grown to shoulder height.
King Khoisan was charged with illegal drug growing and dealing, which carry penalties of up to 25 years.
Personal use of marijuana, known locally as “dagga”, became legal in South Africa in 2018, although it is still illegal to sell or to puff it in public.
“To us, this was a smack for the first nation of South Africa,” King Khoisan told reporters. “We thought that we are going to follow their laws, and their laws put us smoking dagga in prison.”
Surrounded by supporters, King Khoisan urged the government to engage with the activists.
“Now is the time to heal the First Nation,” he said.
“We are people of the land. We need the law of the land. We need the First Nation to be restored. There was too much injustice that was done to the First Nation.”