Namibia: Anti-Dagga Protesters Make Their Voices Heard

Medical marijuana.

ANTI-CANNABIS protesters yesterday took to the streets of Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund in simultaneous marches against the legalisation of the drug.

- RUTH KAMWI and ADAM HARTMAN

The marchers challenged recent demands made by a pro-cannabis group, who held marches calling for its legalisation last month.

In Windhoek, a group of about 50 people from various churches participated in the protest march.

The Windhoek demonstration was led by Sara Elago, founder of Turning Point Namibia, a non-profit organisation which was established to eradicate crime and help ex-convicts turn their lives around through rehabilitation and economic empowerment.

Elago said she has been helping rehabilitate former drug addicts since 1999, visiting prisons with a pastor to encourage inmates to reform.

Elago expressed concern that the possible decriminalisation of cannabis use would cause instability in the country. She felt the use of cannabis for medical purposes is only welcome if it is dispensed through the health ministry.

A petition read by Kerttu Ajejioye, a member of Turning Point Namibia, focused on the negative impacts of cannabis use, stating that users tend to fall into debt, become stubborn, and spend most of the time sleeping. They also engage in crimes like theft and domestic violence, the petition added.

Furthermore, the petition said decriminalising cannabis would hinder any chances of the country realising Vision 2030. The group thus called for sting operations by the police to root out drugs, a tough punishment for marijuana users, and Bible education to be reintroduced in schools.

National Assembly secretary Lydia Kandetu received the petition and assured the marchers that they were at the right place. She explained that she will submit the group's petition to a committee who will deal with it and respond in due course.

Thirty-year-old Kevin Ndungaua, a former drug addict, said he was hooked on drugs for more than 10 years, and that legalising cannabis would do nothing positive for Namibia.

"I don't want other people to go through what I went through," he stressed.

Ndungaua added that legalising cannabis would rob the youth of a chance of a better life, explaining that the lives of young people doing drugs are stagnant and that drugs are poisoning their livelihoods.

Another former drug addict, Steven 'BonBon' Goagoseb (42) said he was influenced into abusing drugs by the family he grew up in.

"My stepfather used to smoke marijuana with his associates. It just got into my way, and I learnt how to smoke these things. Later from marijuana, I went on to smoking Mandrax tablets. It became my favourite before I tried crack cocaine, which is mushrooming in Namibia," he said of his erstwhile addiction.

Goagoseb explained that he later ended up on the streets after he also started abusing alcohol. His aunt approached Elago, who assisted him to turn his life around. Although he experienced relapses, he said he is grateful that he escaped without facing any convictions. Meanwhile, pastor Haruna Goroh of the Jesus Centre Family Church said parents often flock to his church in Katutura to appeal for assistance in dealing with wayward children, some as young as 12 years.

The children, he said, have been turned rogue by drugs. He gave the example of a teenage boy who would beat his large-framed father whenever the boy got 'high'.

Goroh said people's rights should not infringe on others, and that "medicine is supposed to be controlled by those who are skilled, not just by anybody on the street."

COASTAL PROTEST

Meanwhile, protesters at the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay also opposed the legalisation of cannabis, marching to the office of Erongo governor Cleophas Mutjavikua at Swakopmund.

They handed over a petition appealing to the government not to legalise dagga.

The marchers reminded the government of the negative impact cannabis will have on society, and that it will especially jeopardise diligence for education and work, which they say will, in turn, have detrimental social and economic impacts.

Bishop Immanuel Hailaulah said Namibia does not have to imitate countries which legalised dagga use last year.

Pastor Ismael Naweseb, a former police officer who now works with many drug addicts and broken families at Swakopmund, said he has seen too much destruction caused by dagga in people's lives.

"One thing leads to the next, and it is a downward spiral. People become lazy and don't want to work or go to school. This will set off a tendency that will lead to social erosion," he warned.

Naweseb read the petition of Turning Point Namibia's leader, Elago, to Adelaide Kandjala.

Kandjala is the special adviser to Mutjavikua and received the petition on his behalf.

"We plead that our government and lawmakers should not be driven by some elements for their own personal gain at the cost of the lives of our nation," the petition read.

Kandjala commended the protesters for the petition, stating that the message was clear. She accused pro-dagga protesters of displaying posters that insulted Namibian leaders and elders, saying in order to maintain peace in Namibia, democracy must be expressed in peace.

She said she will submit the petition to the governor, who will, in turn, take the message to the relevant leaders.

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