Farming in Port St Johns

2010-06-21 00:00

DAGGA, weed, ganja, dope — Cannabis sativa is known by many names. It’s a robust annual and can grow up to four metres in height. It doesn’t need much water, but it does like hot weather. It is a plant of many uses, it was grown in China as far back as 1500 BCE and was supposedly regularly eaten by the founder of the Persian Sufi sect.

Port St Johns and its environs is well known for producing very good-quality dope, sometimes referred to as Transkei Gold. It is offered in some of the better coffee shops in Amsterdam, right there on the menu next to the White Widow and Silver Haze.

Much of Port St John’s and Lusikisiki’s economy is dependent on ganja growing. One may argue that the farmers are too lazy and only want to make a quick buck, and therefore grow dope instead of regular crops, but that doesn’t alter the fact that many a child has been educated and well fed on Cannabis earnings.

The guide to Port St John’s (PSJ) has a section on dagga-smoking etiquette in PSJ, under the section dealing with “Things to do”. Titled “Other Trips”, following a brief history and botany lesson, one reads: “The smoking of dagga is generally socially accepted in Port St John’s”, (‘Do you mind if I roll a joint?’, is asked more often than the more common ‘do you mind if I smoke?’), which is followed by the caveat that it is illegal, etc.

The crop is grown in remote areas and inaccessible valleys, necessitating the SAPS to send in helicopters twice a year to spray and kill the product before it reaches maturity, and it is harvested and trucked or taxied to the open market. The SAPS helicopter crews have now been coming for years, and are regarded by most residents as nice guys who are here to do a job, even if the job in question is to remove the food from the mouths of babes. And, of course, interfere with the annual buying of luxury cars.

The pilots tell of heart-rending stories of entire villages on their knees, beseeching them not to spray, and of one old woman hobbling into the fields waving a white flag. Yes, it is war against drugs, but should the pilot have heeded the peace flag? How could he? He had a job to do, and until such time that South Africa is no longer a signee to various International anti-drug agreements, the SAPS will continue to spray. And spray it does, albeit with an environmentally friendly weed killer.

But the SAPS helicopters have also caused paranoia among some residents. Growing your own dope is quite common. And more common is the planting of dope in nonsmokers’ organic vegetable gardens as companion anti-bug plants.

Raine’s plants were nearing maturity, the crop was going to be magnificent, and harvest day was looked forward to. Then a helicopter was heard. The helicopter flew overhead, and then horror of horrors, it started circling. It circled many times, flying ever closer to the tree tops. Raine panicked. It was obviously the cops. They had spotted the plants. They would be on the property in no time, oh what to do? The sensible thing was to dig them out, and get rid of the evidence. So staff were dispatched (a slightly different take on colonial Africa this is), with orders to dig and destroy. First the plants were flung into the bush. But that was so thick that the dope plants only decorated the indigenous bush and the evidence was far from gone. The next solution was to fling it in the river, a good idea, had the tide been coming or going. It was turning, so there the magnificent bushes just floated on the water, going nowhere. The plants got hauled back in, were chopped up into little pieces, and were once again distributed in the bush.

Raine rolled and lit a calming joint and sat down; when the cops came, they would brazen it out.

A few minutes later, in waltzed a very happy neighbour, complete with a huge fruit bowl filled with hard-to-get fruits and a bottle of champagne. “Guess where I’ve been?’ says the neighbour. “I’ve had the most magnificent day. William spoilt me. He gave me the most wonderful birthday present, a helicopter ride all the way up the coast, with a Champagne breakfast on a deserted beach. Here, I’ve had so much champers today, you have this bottle and leftover fruit. Did you see me waving to you as we flew over just now? I was trying to photograph our properties.”

Deadly silence followed as Raine realised what had happened. A year’s crop gone, for nothing. How daft not to have realised that SAPS helicopters are blue and white, and that this morning’s one had been black. Neighbourly relations were strained to breaking point. And then, of course, the ridiculous side was seen, and the leftover Champagne was uncorked, and the neighbour’s birthday celebrations were resumed.

• Rina de Tiago has lived in the Transkei and other parts of Africa.

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