31 January 2024

I have committed many sins in my life, but I never thought I would be accused of being a racist, ever.

This morning a letter from Dr Lennox Mtshagi addressed to the Agri Seta, ARC and DALRRD has been brought to my attention. In this letter, Dr Lennox accuses me of racist conduct without providing any specifics or facts. This inflammatory and defamatory letter has since been distributed widely. I would like to seize the opportunity and set the record straight in the public interest, and in the interests of the entire cannabis industry and community.

Having grown up as the son of a policeman in the 70’s and 80’s, I had first-hand lived experience of the horrors of apartheid and the brutality of the enforcement thereof. My first real memories were of the 1976 riots. My dad would be away for weeks fighting these “terrorists” taking over our streets, only to come back home deeply traumatised by the orders they were forced to follow. My enquiring and innocent mind soon questioned everything, which led me to follow an ideology very early in life that was far removed from that of my peers and fellow Afrikaners. I saw myself as African first, Afrikaner second; and this often led to fierce debate with even my most progressive colleagues and friends.

My early exposure to Dagga smoking and reggae music entrenched the words of Bob Marley into my young soul:

“That until there are no longer first class
and second-class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war.”

As a colourblind teenager, I joined the End Conscription Campaign, making sure that my body would not be sacrificed in the name of the nationalist government and their evil policies. My university year coincided with the release of President Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC. Joining NUSAS seemed like an afterthought to me, but I truly believe that the fresh legs in the organisation helped the struggle-fatigued stalwarts.

Throughout my adult life, I have worked tirelessly on building a life system focused on social enablement through direct assistance, entrepreneurship, mentorship and a diversified business model. I believe that a project must be effective, inclusive and sustainable, and I have been invited to form part of the executive of many organisations. These include sports, recreational, nature conservation, agricultural, social upliftment, politics, and even religious associations. Over the years I have assisted many groups – of all colours and creeds – and I’ve formed close associations across borders and boundaries. Many projects have left a lasting legacy on me and those that I have collaborated with. But I have also walked away from many opportunities, almost always at the first sign of racism and exclusivism. The first sign of such an organisation standing for racist and exclusionary ideals was often in the name. I respect the right to associate with like people of the same colour, but if this is reflected in the official name of the organisation it sends a very strong message to an already divided South African society. References to heritage, race or tribe are obviously exclusive and I must simply respect that. But words like ‘white’ or ‘black’ send a divisive message that I never related to and never will. If such groups then want to hypocritically promote their inclusivity, I understandably get frustrated and I will not hesitate to speak out against it in the broader public interest.

In June 2023 I was invited to a BFASA event which was convened to celebrate the opening of a Western Cape-based collaboration between BFASA and Neopharm, which was called Insangu. During the launch, the ‘business model’ was explained as a fully legal model that stemmed from a deal between Dr Lennox and SAHPRA regarding the cultivation, selling, and export of Cannabis. Questions around this were dismissed as being Dr Lennox’s own secret recipe; “almost like KFC” in his own words. The local community and traditional leaders were poorly represented and mostly not invited to the event. I managed, at the last minute, to get the |XAM Chief of Franschhoek and Wemmershoek to be allowed to accompany me to the event. We were shocked to be subjected to hours of rhetoric by King Lesitsa of the Bakholokoe Nation, ending in the purported coronation of Dr Lennox Xolile Mtshagi as the Paramount Chief of the Bakholokoe. This included a ‘deal’ where every chief would donate 5000 hectares to Dr Mtshagi on which to grow Cannabis. As a former high commissioner of the Hawequa and National |XAM Bushmen, I felt mandated to be angry and disgusted at the blatant disrespect for local traditional leadership structures and customs. The coronation and subsequent certificate that was distributed seemed staged, even to the gullible amongst those present. At the celebration event at Neopharm in Franschhoek later that evening, I had the chance to directly address my legitimate concerns with Lennox in person. My enquiries into the legality of the Insangu Dispensary model as well as their inclusion of heirloom farmers in their model were answered in vague and uncertain terms and the conversation did not end well.

I have subsequently been sent marketing material and information on WhatsApp that I did not sign up for. My frustration in receiving these unsolicited messages (never mind that it is prohibited under the POPI Act) culminated in me sending an annoyed response to the sender of the messages wherein I expressed my frustration with the “blackness” of the organisation by name. As a white African, I cannot help but feel excluded by the rhetoric and name of BFASA, and I definitely do not want to receive marketing material from them. This response has quite clearly been taken out of context and anyone who knows me will attest to this. I also referred to the Insangu Dispensary as a scam. As long as an obvious illegal model is portrayed as legal, I will stand by my statement that this is scamming the public into a false sense of security.

My belief is that my actions will speak louder than the words of Dr Mtshagi’s defamatory letter, and I reserve my rights to take appropriate legal action against him. My work has always centred around helping people from all backgrounds. Even now, as I find myself entrenched in the Cannabis industry and community in South Africa, I centre my actions around enablement, lobbying for fair policy, information sharing, and fighting injustice. My colleagues across many organisations will vouch for my grassroots yet sober approach to transformation and the betterment of people’s lives.

I trust that this response will clear the air. As a ‘new’ industry already plagued with infighting, misinformation, and racism, we don’t need this kind of misunderstanding to derail us from our common goal of making sure that Dagga benefits everyone.

Natie Ferreira