Monday, October 30, 2006

SWAZILAND: Illegal cannabis could become legal 'Swazi Gold'

(IRIN) - A fundamental shift in Swaziland's attitude towards the cannabis plant, or hemp, the country's most lucrative cash crop, could be on the horizon. The government is set to allow small-scale production of hemp to see if it has the potential to become an economically viable crop.

"In hemp we have an alternative to cotton, which has let us down badly over the last few years. It has been because of marijuana that we have found it difficult to talk about hemp, but that is changing, and we are beginning to shape public opinion to its benefits," said Lufto Dlamini, the Swazi Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

"The government is considering a proposal to grow hemp, and a decision will be reached by the end of this month. But I expect it will be given the go-ahead to grow for research purposes, and if that proves successful then we will see," he told IRIN.

Falling global prices for sugar and cotton, Swaziland's traditional crops, have led to cannabis, or 'dagga' as it is known locally, becoming 'Swazi Gold' for many of the country's impoverished population, most of whom live on less than US$1 a day.

According to the government's Annual Vulnerability Monitoring Report 2005, cotton prices have fallen steadily over the past few years as a result of international competition and last year's price for cotton was about 33 percent lower than the previous year.

A similar fate has befallen the sugar industry. The European Union plans to slash its price to suppliers in African, Caribbean and Pacific Least Developing Countries by 37 percent from the start of 2007 to bring it in line with the global price, causing the profits of Swazi producers to shrink significantly.

The ongoing decline of these major contributors to the agriculture sector, which is faltering as a whole, have led to widespread job losses and left many Swazis with no means of putting food on the table other than subsistence farming, including cannabis growing.

Swaziland's climate and soil are conducive to growing cannabis and the plant has been grown for many centuries, either for export or for use locally as a stimulant.

In the past four years an increasing number of entrepreneurs have suggested that the large-scale production of hemp would go a long way to counteracting poverty.

Dr Ben Dlamini, 70, a former education administrator in the Swazi Department of Education, was one of the first people to talk about the potential benefits of hemp production.

"The major emphasis on cannabis in Swaziland has always been on smoking it and getting a 'high', but if we were to grow hemp commercially it would solve a lot of problems. It can be used to manufacture fuels, textiles, healthy oils and lotions," he pointed out.

"People are getting the idea that hemp can be used for purposes other than smoking, but the process of understanding this is very slow."

Simon Mavimbela, 21, and Justice Dlamini, 26, have lived all their lives in Hhohho, in the north of the country, the main area for cultivating cannabis, where many people risk growing the illegal plant rather than other cash crops like maize or peanuts.

While both young men insisted that they did not grow cannabis themselves, they admitted that friends and members of their families had grown the plant for generations.

"People here will get around R80 [about US$11] for a 10kg bag of maize when they sell it at the market, but they will get R3,000 [about $405] for a 10kg bag of cannabis if they can sell it to someone who is going to take it outside of Swaziland," Dlamini explained.

"A person can grow 30 10kg bags in a year up in the hills here, and they use the money to buy cows, furniture, send their children to school. We are in a good situation because our fathers grew dagga, so we could afford to go to school, have clothes and other benefits."

According to Dlamini, the only difference between growing cannabis and any other crop is that they have to avoid detection by the police by locating the plantations in inaccessible areas.

"If they are lucky, people from South Africa come and give them the money to start up, and then come back and buy the cannabis after it has been harvested. They then take the stuff through holes in the boarder fence into South Africa. You have to be very careful, though, because the police are always around - people do all their crop-work early in the mornings, so that the police will not see what they are up to."

In 2005 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the global illegal trade in cannabis was worth $142bn and listed Swaziland as one of the major producers in southern and eastern Africa. IRIN NEWS

SWAZILAND: Fighting a losing battle against cannabis growers

(IRIN) - You can smell the plant's sweet, peppery scent as it wafts through the Swazi bush in the mid-morning heat long before you see it.

After a 5km trek through the rugged terrain and tangled foliage that covers much of the country's northern Hhohho region, the unit of 30 police officers finally scrambled into a clearing.

Standing over six feet tall, row upon row of what they were looking for stretched out before them: hundreds of cannabis plants, also known as 'dagga' in this region, with the tools of the trade - shovels, plastic sheets and watering cans - scattered around its fringes; the growers were nowhere to be seen.

While it appeared to be a large find, the head of Swaziland's anti-drug unit, Supt Albert Mkhatshwa, who accompanied the search-and-destroy operation, maintained that such plantations were nothing out of the ordinary.

"This is just dagga being grown by some of the villagers close by. We will spray it with weed killer and the plants will be dead in a day or so, but if we come back in a month's time it is likely more will be growing in the same spot.

"The people know we don't have the necessary resources to cover the whole area, so they will take a chance that we will not come back soon. People have been growing herbal cannabis for a long time in Swaziland, long before it was illegal," he said.

Swaziland's climate and soil are conducive to growing the plant, and the people have known and used it for hundreds of years. However, over the last decade the combination of international demand and extreme poverty - about 70 percent of the country's one million people live on US$2 or less a day - has led to widespread cultivation.

The crop is grown in such large quantities that the United Nations Drug Control Programme has listed the country, which covers only 17,, as one of the main cannabis-growing areas in southern Africa. The latest Interpol statistics estimate that east and southern Africa supplied 9 percent of the global $142 billion cannabis trade in 2004, with the region's major producers being identified as Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland and Tanzania.

'Swazi Gold' cannabis is internationally known for its potency - users experience a mild hallucinogenic affect when they ingest or smoke it - and consequently it is a highly sought after commodity in neighbouring South Africa as well as Europe.

An almost insatiable worldwide demand for the substance has attracted international crime syndicates to the country to fund and organise the large-scale production of dagga by locals.

According to South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a regional think-tank, the financial proceeds are then used to fund other illegal activities.

"Of the cannabis that is harvested, the best quality is earmarked for compression into one- or two-kilogram blocks that are smuggled via South Africa and Mozambique to Europe and the UK [United Kingdom]," said a recent ISS report on Swaziland's cannabis trade.

"Nigerian criminal networks have moved into the dominant position in the Swazi cannabis trade during the past few years, and the proceeds of their sales in Europe are used to pay for cocaine purchased in South America, which is then smuggled to South Africa and elsewhere."

After consulting police experts in Swaziland and the European Union (EU), the ISS revealed that growers at the point of sale in Swaziland received between $45 and $52 per kilogram, depending on quality. However, once the narcotic has reached the EU's streets its retail value is about 140 times that amount, with high-quality Swazi Gold fetching as much as US$7,600 a kilogram in the UK.

So far, the limited success of the Swazi police in controlling the illegal trade has coincided with locating the plants before they were harvested. Once compressed and packaged, consignments are taken into neighbouring countries using back roads, or simply through holes cut in the border fence, which are "notoriously difficult to monitor," said Supt Mkhatshwa.

The successes in the field were largely due to assistance given by the South African and United States governments, both of which provided specialised equipment, such as helicopters and off-road vehicles, to help the anti-drug units locate plantations grown in areas not easily accessible by road.

South Africa recently withdrew its assistance, leaving the Swazi police to tackle the problem with the meagre resources at their disposal.

South African Police spokesperson Ronan Naidoo said the South African government had assisted the Swazi police with aerial surveys and crop spraying aircraft in the past, but co-operation on operations was no longer in place because of escalating costs. "There have been many joint operations, but they have to involve a joint covering of the expenses involved for them to continue," he told IRIN.

Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Sahara's last absolute monarch, saw its economy contract from 2.1 percent growth, last year to 1.8 percent this year, while the population increased by 2.9 percent, the central bank said in a report to the government this month.

Consequently, Supt Mkhatshwa now dispatches his anti-drug units into dense bush and mountainous areas on foot, with nothing more than a container of weed killer on their backs and a spray gun in their hands.

"I send men into the bush to survey the areas for the dagga plantations and once they find a sizable crop a larger group goes back and sprays the area. We are doing this every two weeks, but it is not having much impact.

"A couple of years ago the South Africans did aerial surveys for us over the inaccessible regions, and when they found plantations they either sprayed them from the air or flew us in to spray them. This co-operation enabled us to rid ourselves of large amounts of dagga growing in areas that take a full day to get to by foot," he said.

The latest statistics compiled by the Swazi anti-drug unit show that in the first seven months of this year 2,407kg of compressed cannabis was seized, and a further 356.5ha of cannabis plantations were destroyed.

"If we were able to do real surveys we would be able to destroy lots more than we have done. It is so difficult to reach the plantations in the mountainous areas. Often times they are so large that we are not able to carry enough chemicals to spray all the plants. Unless we get help, this [problem] will become extremely difficult to control," he said.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Stranded and stoned:

Tens of thousands of Capetonians were left stranded, buses were stoned and at least three commuters injured as protests by taxi drivers entered a second day on Friday.

There was widespread stoning of Golden Arrow buses as residents of Khayelitsha, Crossroads and Nyanga queued for hours - often in vain - for alternative transport into the city, Bellville and east towards Somerset West.

A large police contingent descended on the suburbs and arterial routes shortly before dawn, but the stoning continued. Cape Argus

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Habitat Research

“Research makes no difference to the human habitat environment unless it is translated into policy, practice, promotion and products,”

70 Actionable Ideas - World Urban Forum

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fishhoek blaze leaves 300 families homeless

More than 300 families were left homeless on Thursday after fires ravaged an informal settlement in Fishhoek, Cape Town local disaster management said.

Spokesperso Craig Pillay said fire-fighters responded to a reported fire at Masiphulele township at about 2am.

"The fire department responded in 10 minutes and managed to put blazes under control."

No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire was unknown.

"We have contacted NGOs to assist the victims. The Red Cross would provide blankets and the Salvation Army would provide warm meals," Pillay said.

He said the city council would provide shelter to the affected families. - Sapa

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

AfriCAN HOUSEIT - Cape Town's - Shack Towns

Google Earth view of Cape Town's informal settlements

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Cape fires kill, leave hundreds homeless

A three-year-old girl died and more than 130 people were left homeless after fires ravaged two informal settlements in the Western Cape on Saturday and Sunday, the SABC reported.

On Saturday, the child was killed and more than 60 people were left homeless after 15 shacks were destroyed in Wallacedene, near Kraaifontein.

On Sunday, the SABC reported that a second fire had surged through Joe Slovo Park, near Milnerton, leaving more than 70 residents of 29 dwellings homeless but unhurt.

Cape Town disaster management spokesperson Wilfred Solomon said that the cause of the fires was not known.

He said they were providing the necessary relief, accommodation, blankets and food as well as building materials to both communities. - Sapa
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