Cape Town — Black farmers are taking on the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) over the exclusion of indigenous people in the handing out of cannabis licenses.
The Black Farmers Association of South Africa (BFASA) will march today - and it's not the first time they're protesting against the health regulatory body. In October 2020, the pro-cannabis marchers took to the streets of Arcadia, Pretoria, where the authority's offices are, with the aim of "putting an end to SAHPRA's corruption in the cannabis industry".
Six months later, they are demanding the resignation of Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, along with the shutdown of the SAHPRA offices.
BFASA, whose vision is to ensure that there is transformation in the agriculture and farming sector and that there is equality irrespective of race, says Health Minister Zweli Mkhize must step down because he is to blame for the monopolization of the cannabis Industry.
"SAHPRA has stated publicly that their actions in using the Apartheid era act of 1965 to allow them to issue licenses to whites only and foreigners, to the deliberate exclusion of the indigenous population, are at the specific instructions of the Minister of Health. SAHPRA's board mentions on record, that Dr. Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health is to blame for the monopolization of the Cannabis Industry because it is him who grants the licenses to the white-owned companies and if that is the truth then he must step down."
Lennox Xolile Mtshagi, President of BFASA says the reason his organisation and its affiliates decided to go on a march for the second time with SAHPRA is because they have given the regulatory authority enough time to resolve the matters surrounding the issuance of cannabis licenses.
"One of the matters is that they can't issue licenses in South Africa with the act of 1965, an act that was not amended up to today. The second is they can't issue licenses to white monopoly without addressing the issues with those that were previously disadvantaged, those that went to jail, and others that died for cannabis," he said.
According to Mtshagi, his organisation has addressed this many times with the Chairperson of SAHPRA, Professor Helen Rees, CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela and other board members.
"We said to them you need to revoke all those licenses because, in South Africa, our preamble of the Constitution makes it clear that those that were previously disadvantaged should be prioritized in the wealth of South Africa. So by excluding them, you become automatically a Constitution delinquent which means you're a criminal by doing so," he said.
Mtshagi said SAHPRA had agreed to look at their demands but they made a U-turn.
"We found out SAHPRA was playing for time and when we cornered them, SAHPRA said - and we've got this on record - They are working under the instruction of Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. He's the one that said they must give licenses to white people, and that's what SAHPRA said. If Mkhize's instruction is exclude black people and take away their indigenous plant we don't have to waste our time with you. Let us meet up with you in your building on the 22nd of April. We'll be coming in numbers to shut you down because what you're doing is a commercial capture," said Mtshagi, who provided allAfrica with an audio file of the meeting concerned.
In the audio, you can hear Vice Chairperson of SAHPRA, Mandissa Hela saying "the Act of 1965 is the responsibility of the minister, it is not the responsibility of SAHPRA. We execute but amendments to the Act obviously goes through the minister to parliament and so on. I want to also state that nowhere in the act is there anything that says anybody is excluded. That Act as we apply it now applies to everybody that lives in South Africa".
Msthagi then says "the minister is the one that is responsible for the act. If you heard me, I said the president have answered us. So if you are pointing to the minister and saying that the minister is the one that is causing this problem, then the minister should go down with SAHPRA. because SAHPRA is putting the blame to the minister, meaning the minister is operating with an Apartheid Act and it's the minister that is responsible for this Apartheid Act. There are calls already that the minister should step down".
SAHPRA has dismissed the claims as untrue, saying the minister never gave such an instruction.
"The Minister of Health is the custodian of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 101 of 1965 (Medicines Act) and the allegations of licences given as indicated above are untrue, together with the allegations that the Minister gave such an instruction. SAHPRA regulates the health products in SA, ensuring that they comply with regulatory requirement of safety, quality, and efficacy for intended health outcomes in terms of the Medicines Act," said Yuven Gounden, SAHPRA spokesperson, in a statement.
Responding to allegations of excluding black people in the cannabis business, Gounden said the regulatory body "applies this principle, i.e quality, safety, and efficacy when evaluating applications and only those applicants that demonstrate the ability to achieve this are issued with a licence. It is a requirement that an applicant be a resident of South Africa. Currently the Medicines Act does not make provision for SAHPRA to require demographic information of applicants. SAHPRA would therefore be in no position to identify the demographics of any applicant when issuing licences."
Gounden said SAHPRA implements the provisions of the Medicines Act in accordance with commitments of South Africa under the United Nations Conventions on Control for Cannabis and Other Substances.
"For application of a licence, a natural person who resides in the Republic shall be responsible to the Authority for compliance with the Act and only persons residing in the Republic may make an application for the registration of a medicine on an application form obtainable from the office of the Chief Executive Officer," Gounden said.
SAHPRA says they have been engaging with BFASA and clarified certain misunderstandings about the issuance of licences. According to Gounden, SAHPRA is currently engaging with various stakeholders in relation to cannabis and other matters in ensuring that the concerns raised by South Africans and BFASA regarding considerations for B-BBEE when issuing licences be considered.
Discussions around legalising marijuana are increasing across Africa, especially as more countries are rolling out medicinal marijuana regulations with the aim of economic growth in the country concerned.
In South Africa, the cannabis industry is an emerging market with immense potential that will not only benefit individuals but also promises to inject billions into the economy.
However, the South African government has been accused of dragging its feet, slowing down the process of legalisation of marijuana.
In 2020 a draft law regulating legal marijuana possession in South Africa was published ahead of its submission to Parliament. Its publication follows a Constitutional Court ruling back in September 2018 that legalised the personal use and cultivation of marijuana although its trade remains illegal.
BFASA the solution they have suggested to authorities includes giving out land to landless black South Africans, along with permits so that they can still farm but then they need to supply to a co-op.
"For starters, we'd do co-ops. Give the people the land or we (use) containers, each owns a container. Monarchs and Chiefs must also put containers because there is no dignity for our traditional leaders right now. We even suggested that they give three licenses that are bankable so that if a person comes with an investor, the investor pays everything to SAHPRA, and builds the structure that will be in line with the standards of the Medicine Act," said Mtshagi.
In South Africa, an adult may possess unlimited amounts of seeds or seedlings, but only four flowering plants per adult (and a maximum of eight in homes with two or more adults). You may have 600 grams of dry dagga at home (if you live alone) or 1.2 kilograms in a home with two or more adults.
What's not very clear is what the prescribed allowed quantity is and who the drafters consulted to determine that four flowering plants are what you need as one adult, and eight flowering plants are what you get for private space or dwelling where you have two adults or more. In a South African context, this may be considered discriminating, especially in a country where there are many households that have more than two adults living in one space.
Questions have been asked on what is a private space and who has access to private spaces. In South Africa, many people don't have access to private space and live on communal land, so they can't exercise their right to cultivate, possess and consume marijuana. People in the Eastern Cape and other parts of South Africa are still selling marijuana (usually called dagga in South Africa) but it has little to no value since it's illegal.
Mtshagi said: "The market is occupied by the monopoly. We are not racist but those that want to do business need to understand that BEE compliance must be in place. That means a minimum of 51% must be black-owned so that we balance the scale and close the gap. By doing so, we can work together. So SAHPRA's view is different from our view because they only care for their pockets. Their vision is not for the people and their focus is to make white empowerment in South Africa. If we get new leaders we'll put the proposals to them and we will be part of that board to make sure that transformation is taking place at a higher speed."
Editor's note: allAfrica.com called, left WhatsApp and voicemail messages, but was unable to get a response from the Minister of Health Mkhize's spokesperson Lwazi Manzi.