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Rastafarians challenge dagga law

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TWELVE Rastafarians have filed an urgent application in the Constitutional Court challenging regulations that outlaw the growing, possession and smoking of marijuana.

The application comes after two Rastafarians were arrested and charged with growing and possessing dagga at their Ha-Matala home.

Lebohang Matlanyane and Boitumelo Lethala, an unmarried couple living under the same roof, argue that the Penal Code Act 2010, Drugs of Abuse Act 2008, and Drugs of Abuse Regulations of 2018 violate their individual liberties.

They are arguing why the law allows the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis for “medical, scientific and related purposes to the exclusion of religious exceptions”.

The two, who are backed by 10 others in the application, want the court to declare whether “the blanket proscription of cultivation, possession and use of cannabis by any adult in his private home space is valid and constitutional”.
Their lawyer, Advocate Mpeli Mohlabula ,said the case was urgent because Matlanyane and Lethala are facing a criminal case in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.

“Should their trial proceed and they be convicted this case would be a naught and/or hard to prosecute to the prejudice of their liberty and fair trial rights,” Advocate Mohlabula said in the certificate of urgency.

“Violation of liberty is automatically urgent and ongoing,” he said.

He said the remaining 10 applicants also face arrest because they use cannabis on a daily basis in their private homes and in their gatherings as part of their religious customs.

The Rastafarians want the Ministry of Health to provide the court with “evidential and legal proof demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis is habit-forming, and worth proscribing in all circumstances”.

In his affidavit, Matlanyane said the cannabis tree grew naturally at their home and they had no obligation under the law to uproot it, especially because in terms of their religion the cannabis tree is sacred.

He said when the police uprooted the cannabis trees, some seeds fell on to the ground and are likely to germinate and grow into big shrubs again.

Matlanyane said there will still be no legal obligation for them to uproot the trees, especially because that will be contrary to their religious beliefs, and they will likely be arrested and prosecuted again.

They say their arrest and prosecution violated their constitutional right to freedom of worship, especially when their form of worship does not harm anyone.

They want to be issued with licences to cultivate, possess and use cannabis as an organisation and as individuals for religious purposes.

Their organisation is called the “Rastafari United Front”, part of the worldwide Rastafari religion promoting peace, love, dignity, truth, equality, justice and freedom acknowledging the Bible “as an inspirational and sacred source”.

“Reasoning and meditation are essential elements of the religion,” Matlanyane said.

“Meditation is an individual contemplative practice while reasoning is a collective activity that serves as a form of communion,” he said.

“One of the essential elements of these activities is the use of cannabis which is used at religious gatherings and in the privacy of the follower’s home.”

He said the use of cannabis is central to the Rastafari religion.

“We believe that there is a duty incumbent upon human beings to praise the Creator and that through the use of cannabis one is best able to fulfil this obligation,” he said.

“Thus cannabis is also called incense.”

He called cannabis a fragrant sacrament known as communion which accompanies reasoning.

Cannabis is also thrown on to the altar or placed on the incense holder just as the burning of incense is common in other religions including some Christian churches.

He said other uses include eating cannabis as part of food, drinking it as a tonic, or bathing in it and “these uses are no less sacred”.

“If the cannabis is prone to abuse by us it is equally prone to abuse by those permitted to use it for medical, scientific and related purposes,” he said.

He said even a patient has the ability to knowingly, negligently or accidentally overdose cannabis prescribed by a medical doctor because there are no surveillances, guarantees and safeguards tailored to assure strict compliance with the minimum moderate use of the drug.

He said the current regulations which allow the rich to cultivate, sell and export cannabis while blocking ordinary people from using the same products for religious rites were extremely unfair.

He said just like Christians who burn incense and traditional healers who use mpepa for incense to invoke good spirits and expel evil spirits, in Rastafari religion, they burn cannabis which sends good scent to Jah Rastafari in their ritual gatherings and for sacramental purposes or as incense to invoke the good spirits and expel evil spirits.

“But most importantly, this is also the medium of ascending to the high dimension in order to meet our heavenly Lord, Jah-Rastafari,” he said.

He said Rastafarians worldwide have their own prayer and rituals just like Christians.

A well-known South African who challenged the cannabis proscription laws, Garreth Anver Prince, deposed to an affidavit in support of the case.

Prince, a trained lawyer who has not been admitted to the bar because of his criminal record for possession of cannabis, said criminal laws against possession of cannabis are “immoral in principle, unworkable in practice, and an insult to African dignity and cultural integrity”.

Prince argued that where there are practices that might fall within a general legal prohibition, but that do not involve any violation of the Bill of Rights, the constitution obliges the state to walk the extra mile and accommodate such practice.

“Cultivating a cannabis tree does not come close to limiting the rights of others, and thus requires the state to reasonably accommodate such a practice,” he said.

He said ideally one would love to grow one’s own sacrament as no one would put the sanctity and purity of their prayers or salutations, in the hands of the others.”

He argued that Christians are allowed to grow vineyards full of grapes so that they have wine as their sacrament but Rastafarians are not afforded the same right with cannabis.

“The sacramental nature of wine is not questioned and congregants are allowed to purchase wine,” he said.

He said tobacco use is allowed despite that tobacco is the source of preventable human deaths, yet it is freely available, with very little regulation.

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Dead on arrival

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My sister delivered a stillborn baby when she was on her way to the clinic,” ’Matemoho Letšela, 23, barely holding back tears.

Letšela says her sister, whose name she withheld, suffered birth-pangs when she was alone at home in Khonofaneng village in Mokhotlong.

She was then rushed down the slopes of a mountain by some passers-by on foot, striding on the slopes of a rocky mountain, crossing deep gorges as she sought to get to the Molika-Liko Health Centre some eight kilometres away.

When she arrived at the clinic, the baby was declared dead on arrival.

Welcome to Mokhotlong, Lesotho’s mountainous region known worldwide for its big and clean diamonds where the people do not have basic services.

Letšela said her sister collapsed when she was on her way to the clinic and was only seen by some passers-by.

By the time passers-by saw her, it was already too late for her and her baby.

She was eight months pregnant. 

“She was still far from the clinic and away from the villages,” Letšela says.

“She had no one to help her until she lost her baby. She was helpless the whole day until it was too late for her to survive,” she says.

 “She had already lost a lot of blood and could not make it to the hospital.”

Letšela shared her sister’s story with thepost during a tour conducted by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assess the impact of their assistance in Mokhotlong and Quthing districts a fortnight ago.

Letsela pleaded with the government to provide services in Mokhotlong’s hard-to-reach areas to avoid unnecessary deaths like her sister’s.

“My sister was eight months pregnant so the long walking distance might have been the cause of her early delivery and ultimate death,” she says.

She says there are still some villages in her area that are way far from where she stays, villages like Lichecheng where a patient must travel early in the morning, sleep on the way and reach the clinic the following day.

Cars cannot reach those remote areas, she says.

At Letšela’s area, they only have one bus that travels from home to town at 9am and will be back late at 8pm.

Even though they would love to always catch a ride whenever they are going to the clinic, sometimes they just do not have the money.

Letšela is three months pregnant now and says she cannot wait to reach 37 weeks so she can go and stay at the accommodation facilities provided by the clinic.

 “That is the advice from our midwives and I am willing to take that offer,” she says.

“I don’t want what happened to my sister to happen to me.”

When thepost met Letšela at the clinic last week, she had left her place at around 4am walking alone to the clinic and arrived after 10am.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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