A pill for our ills

Andrew Donaldson on the cure for ranting diplomats, and other intractable ailments



KEITH Richards is a lot wiser than most people realise, and the guitarist was no doubt speaking for many of us when he notably remarked, “Let me be clear about this. I don’t have a drug problem. I have a police problem.”

There are however terrible problems associated with narcotics, and these have been highlighted in recent developments. Here in Britain, for example, details of candidates’ drug use surfaced during the Conservative party leadership contest.

For better or worse, the race appears to be determined by the class of substance involved and, dismayingly, the Tories seem to prefer cocaine. 

Purely on a social level, this is perhaps the most dangerous drug of all in that a single trip to the bathroom is enough to reveal the idiotic narcissist that you truly are. Believe me, fellow party guests are under no illusion that the hyperkinetic chatter about yourself is a sign of wit.

Which means Michael Gove, the environment secretary, must have been a whole barrel of monkeys back in the day when he was a journalist and hoovering up the stuff. 

Gove was a strong contender in the leadership race but then was abruptly tripped up in the party voting process on Thursday, leaving former foreign secretary Boris Johnson a virtual shoo-in as the UK’s next prime minister. Johnson is up against the present foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a man who can’t decide whether his wife is of Chinese or Japanese origin.

The other drug in the race was opium, which Rory Stewart, the international development secretary, admitted smoking at a wedding in Iran. This, of course, is a far tonier narcotic than cocaine, what with its literary and cultural overtones and the, uh, significant role it played in the colonial project.

Stewart is an acclaimed academic and author, and his first book, The Places in Between, an account of his 32-day solo walk across Afghanistan in 2002, was a New York Times bestseller which won several literary prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. 

He was later a coalition official in Iraq and his book about this experience, Occupational Hazards, or The Prince of the Marshes, was hailed as a “sobering picture of the difficulties involved in creating a coherent Iraqi state based on the rule of law”.

Clearly too decent to lead the Tories, Stewart was an early casualty in the race. The problem, of course, was not the opium, but his Scottish roots. (That and the fact that he has difficulties with his necktie.)

They clearly don’t like them from north of the border. Back in 2005, ahead of the elections that year, Johnson wrote in The Spectator that it would be “utterly outrageous” if Gordon Brown, a Scot, replaced Tony Blair as Labour leader and prime minister. 

It was, he said, “not just because [Brown] is a gloomadon-popping, interfering, high-taxing complicator of life, but mainly because he is a Scot, and government by a Scot is just not conceivable in the current constitutional context”. 

Such antipathy endures, yet Johnson’s supporters insist that, as one Daily Telegraph headline put it, he “isn’t a racist, Scot-hating, Islamophobe. He’s a hopeless softie.”

He does, however, have problems of his own. Unlike Gove, the buffoonish Johnson has made light of his cocaine use and has joked that he was offered a line only once, more than 30 years ago, and that he thought it was “icing sugar” and he had sneezed rather than snorted it. 

Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, very Bill Clinton, and all that. 

Some surveys here suggest that, while most UK voters are prepared to tolerate to an extent youthful indiscretions about drug use and adultery, they are not so forgiving about MPs who continue to lie about such behaviour. 

They may be even less tolerant about domestic violence. 

Police were reportedly called to the home of Johnson and his current partner, Carrie Symonds, in the early hours of Friday morning after neighbours heard a heated argument involving screaming, shouting and banging.

A neighbour told the Guardian they heard a woman screaming followed by “slamming and banging”. At one point Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

Two police cars and a van arrived within minutes after an emergency phone call, but left after assurances that the occupants in Symonds’s flat were safe. 

Before they arrived, though, the neighbour recorded the altercation out of concern for Symonds. On the recording, which the Guardian heard, Johnson refuses to leave the flat and tells Symonds to “get off my fucking laptop” before a loud crashing noise. 

Symonds is heard accusing Johnson of ruining her sofa with red wine. “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt,” she says. “You have no care for money or anything.”

“There was a smashing sound of what sounded like plates,” the neighbour said. “There was a couple of very loud screams that I’m certain were Carrie and she was shouting to ‘get out’ a lot. She was saying ‘get out of my flat’ and he was saying no. And then there was silence after the screaming. My partner, who was in bed half asleep, had heard a loud bang and the house shook.”

Closer to home, there was more hurling of the toys from the cot in the wee small hours this week, this time from Denmark, where the South African ambassador, Zindzi Mandela, threw something of a cow on Twitter following a “wine and dine” episode.

Much has been said of this regrettable business, but few commentators have suggested the obvious: Mandela, very much like her late mother, does not appear to travel well.

Perhaps it is a form of homesickness, but what other explanation could there be for the ambassador lying low and staying incommunicado for days after her undiplomatic outburst?

Some have suggested she be brought back to Pretoria, where she will get the care and help she may need. But this would fly in the face of international relations best practice of sending our top people abroad, like the former ambassador to the Netherlands, Carl “the Camo” Niehaus. 

Perhaps the solution is a more prestigious posting. Caracas, for example, seems so much better than the backwater that is Copenhagen; there, free at last of the hygge happiness and all that Viking oppression, she can at least experience first hand the triumphs of Venezuela’s land reform policies.

My own feeling is that, in future, Mandela should perhaps choose dagga rather than wine to complement her dining experiences. This will do much to enhance her appetite, aid digestion and lift the general surliness regarding white people.

As it is, the old “apartheid” attitudes regarding weed are fast disappearing, and dagga is moving up in society. We may freely use it in our homes — just as we’ve done for centuries — but, more than that, our concerns now turn to its large-scale production. 

Last month, for example, and amid much talk of job creation and economic benefits, the City of Cape Town announced that it had released vacant land on the outskirts of Atlantis for an industrial medical marijuana facility. According to reports, R683-million in capital expenditure will be pumped into the initial construction of the facility while a further R1.5-billion will be invested in later developments.

Elsewhere in the Western Cape, a Stellenbosch company, CanbiGold, is converting shipping containers into “dagga factories” to grow medical grade marijuana. They aim to sell the containers for a whopping R6-million a pop. 

They claim that it’s possible to grow 25 kilograms of medical marijuana a month in a container. “At current market value,” Business Insider reported, “that much Grade 1 cannabis could net you a return of R5.4 million a year from export contracts.”

Which is all very well, but the real money is in recreational marijuana. 

Earlier this month, a report in The Times of London highlighted the plight of dagga growers in Piggs Peak, Mswati (formerly Swaziland), following the decision last year to decriminalise the growth and possession of dagga for personal use in South Africa. 

One 63-year-old gogo, identified as Simphiwe, told the newspaper that her secret crop of Swazi Gold used to earn her as much as R5 000 a kilogram, which she used to keep her nine grandchildren clothed, fed and in school. Now one of the country’s premier exports is worth barely R400 a kilogram, as she had lost all her South African customers.

There are now calls that Mswati should follow SA’s lead and loosen its laws. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, has approved plans for its first state-run dagga farm and production facility — in a prison, which, they say, will guarantee security. (No laughing at the back there, please.)

Lastly, there have been suggestions that much was smoked in the preparation of the state of the nation address, what with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s prattle of building a new “smart city”, the first in “the democratic era, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories … founded on the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.”

But we should not be too hasty in laying on the scorn and deriding Squirrel’s dreams of bullet trains hurtling hither and thither across the land and what have you. He has cast his billionaire’s eye over the massive problems facing the youth, particularly unemployment, and he has met with them, and taken note of what they had to say.

“They are entrepreneurs and community builders, activists and artists,” Ramaphosa told the National Assembly. “If there is one thing we have learned from our engagements with this country’s youth is that we cannot impose our solutions: everything we have to do must be led by them. 

“They have told us what they want, and what they need. They want to be employed, yes, but they also want to become employers.”

Let them grow and sell dagga, then. It’s the start-up waiting to start up. True, there will be naysayers and much guffing away about health and psychoses and what have you from certain quarters. But such talk is to be expected and should be ignored.

The money, as I say, is good. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state collected $266 529 637 in taxes, licences and fee revenues last year from sales of $1 545 691 080. That’s more than R3.7-billion for the fiscus from about R20-billion in marijuana sales. 

It’s true that we can’t compare apples with pears. But that’s a lot of smoking in a territory with a population a tenth the size of South Africa’s. It is well known that SARS’s revenue collecting ability is a bit on the rickety side, and they do struggle with the hordes of dodgy cigarette salesmen out there, but our tax people have been known to squeeze a buck or two from the mense

The trick, of course, is to keep the ruling party and their friends away from dagga production. They will just give the stuff a bad name.

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