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South Africa: The key role of the “Sangomas” in the cannabis legalization process



Zanele Mazibuko, "Sangoma" or traditional healer. Photo: Larissa Barbosa | cannareporter

The third edition of The Cannabis Expo took place this weekend in Cape Town and welcomed hundreds of participants. Since 2019, South Africa's biggest cannabis event has been held annually in three cities across the country: Cape Town, Durban (July 28th to 30th) and Johannesburg (November 24th to 26th). The convention always has a special space dedicated to “Sangomas”, the South African term equivalent to traditional healers or shamans, who play a leading role in the legalization of cannabis in this African country.

In South Africa, cannabis is a medicinal herb used for centuries by traditional healers, known in the country as Sangomas. A Sangoma is a practitioner of herbal medicine and counseling in the Nguni tradition — Zulus, Xossas, Ndebele and Swazis — different societies in South Africa. His philosophy is based on belief in ancestral spirits.

The Sangomas have, therefore, assumed a preponderant role in the process of legalizing cannabis in the country, where for more than 5 years, consumption and self-cultivation have been legalized for own consumption. Remember that, last year, King Khoisan, leader of the South African indigenous community Khoi-San, was arrested for growing and selling cannabis in front of the official residence of the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

“The Sangoma had only one place in traditionality, but here we see that we can also learn from the industry and develop our traditional practices a lot”.

For Zanele Mazibuko, a traditional healer, participating in this event was important, especially now that the government is beginning to recognize the ancestral medicine work of traditional healers. Since 2018, a process of decriminalization of use and cultivation for personal consumption has begun. The club model is operating for recreational use, but the market for hemp and CBD products is on the rise, with much anticipation for the hemp industry.

Some Sangomas at The Cannabis Expo. Photo: Larissa Barbosa | cannareporter

Greek Zweni, Sangoma from the region of Mvindoland sees with enthusiasm this participation of the Sangomas in the Expo. “From our perspective, it may look like a modern event that showcases the Western way of doing things, but we noticed that this is not the case. Here we find an international variety of ways of doing things and how processes can be improved for the good of humanity and communities. The Sangomas only had a place in traditionality, but here we see that we can also learn from the industry and greatly develop our traditional practices. Have one stand here at the Expo it is an opportunity to gain international acceptance of the medicine we make and consume”, he told the Cannareporter.

Greek Zweni is at the Expo also representing another association, the Umzimvubu Farmers Network, which is fighting for the inclusion of traditional growers from the Mvindoland region in the new South African legislation, which is still considered by activists to be quite restrictive. Cultivation licenses are extremely expensive and do not favor groups that often cultivate for their own subsistence.

This was even the theme of one of the first debates that opened the Expo's discussion panel. Linda Siboto, co-founder of Cheeba Academy, South Africa's leading cannabis education and training platform, pointed out that although the potential of the hemp industry in the country is huge, what is lacking is infrastructure for agricultural processing. Siboto suggested that the textile industry, for example, should ideally invest in such infrastructure, so that hemp can become a high-value industry.

Photo: Larissa Barbosa | cannareporter

After the scandal of the extinct Juicy Fields, main sponsor of the event in the previous year, and with more than two blackouts per day in Cape Town, the Expo opened with a record number of exhibitors: more than 200 stands with local exhibitors, International, agr suppliersítails, lifestyle brands, investors and also NGOs.

In the program, in addition to lectures, workshops and discussion panels, The Freedom Festival also took place, with bands, artists and DJs ensuring a festive atmosphere. Outside The Grand West Casino, the huge complex where Cannabis Expo takes place, there was also a cannabis food and beverage market.

South Africa is facing an unprecedented energy crisis. In Cape Town alone there are at least 2 to 3 blackouts a day, what South Africans call 'load-shedding'. The Cannabis Expo organization reported that this did not pose a problem, as more than 20 generators were used to ensure the success of the event.


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