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Africa Travel Cannabis

Cannabis in Africa: South African Cannabis

Long before South African cannabis has a chance to change my mind about Africa: South Africa itself immediately shatters my concept of Africa on landing. I’ve already been to almost a fifth of Africa and the airport alone shows me that I have no concept of what Africa is or can be.

I arrive in suburban Johannesburg to a couple of husbands still celebrating one of their birthdays the morning after with vodka drinks and cocaine. Once I hear their cocaine comes from Colombia I say no to it, but accept the vodka drink. I present my gift of specific Absolut bottles culled from Zambian Duty-Free stores. One of the husbands, and soon a friend, is a collector. 

We sit around discussing life and our histories and beliefs and politics. I hear slight pining for the apartheid era in current complaints about the South African government, but I guess not holding the new government to high standards would be even more racist. The husbands aren’t any of the standard South African ethnicities, but were both born and raised in South Africa. 

They complain of crumbling infrastructure, which is hard to hear given the comparison between Joburg infrastructure and US infrastructure, let alone that of anywhere else in Africa.

The first thing I learn about South Africa is that it is far more diverse than I’d thought.

Arriving in South Africa and expecting it to undo my associations with it and apartheid is probably both racist and fair. It can’t undo them because the modern system is still apartheid in the same way USAmerican systems are still transatlantic slavery. And the US has had many more years to overcome, so it’s an unfair comparison.

One strange comparison that can’t be made between the US and South Africa is that of religion. The cloying puritanism underlying much of US racial narrative isn’t there in South Africa. Free, safe, legal abortion is advertised on every telephone pole.

Even better, it is sometimes advertised alongside other services of witch doctors. You don’t see that in USAmerica.

It’s a few days before I become good friends with a husband and he scores me some weed, which he only rarely smokes.

It is without a doubt the finest weed I have smoked outside of California and Colorado. Just sublimely grown, perfectly cured, expertly trimmed. I end up buying Sour Diesel, a familiar strain, because it is the best I see. Still, I sort of regret that I didn’t try Durban Poison, which is, indeed, a South African strain named after the coastal town of Durban.

I don’t visit Durban, though, and do love South Africa enough to return, so look out for my follow-up post on trying Durban Poison in Durban. 🙂

The dealer calls the weed “very lekker” which makes me chuckle. He has a “cool” South African vernacular, dress, and body language. I’d guess him around 50, more of an entrepreneur than a dealer. He seems Californian, or the South African version thereof. Likely the kind of Afrikaner one would find at AfrikaBurn. He invites me to see the shops. Not clear on whether weed is sold out of them. 

Soon after arriving in Johannesburg I visit Sandton and a mall there. It blows my mind. I have just spent two months in Africa and I haven’t seen anything this, well, wealthy. Even though I later visit Nigeria, which is wealthier, it is also obviously far more corrupt because that wealth doesn’t make it to almost any of the people, and even if it does dealing with the infrastructure there is a nightmare for all.

Johannesburg feels like an alternate universe version of a US city to me. So many familiar elements. Distance and segregation between rich and poor, defined in most part by race. 

Racial tension, but a different racial story. One that is even older, and impossible for me as a non-local to truly understand. It is wrought in language and nuance.

At Cullinan Diamond Mine I hear Fanagalo for the first time, the South African mining language that is a mix of Zulu, English, and Afrikaans. I am visiting 763 meters below the earth’s surface. Here I see and hold Kimberlite for the first time.

I never liked diamonds before this. Thought of them as shiny rocks that cost way too much. Couldn’t see the value.

Then I see the risk and the dirt and the water and air tenuously tubed under all that earth and when I come up into the light and take off all my gear – diamonds have crystallized in my heart. They offer me a sales session in the store.

Of course I take it. I learn to look for exclusions in the ancient jewels. And then, I look at some mighty fine diamonds, from Cullinan – the mine that graces the British crown jewels. The diamonds sing to me and the sparkles mesmerize me and my mind is forever changed about diamonds. I don’t seek them out, but I do see the allure.

Speaking of diamonds, the weed is lovely and covered in them and South African cannabis is decriminalized for personal use. Everyone wants me to smoke it in the yard, or on the deck. This is a sign of tolerance, for sure.

As are the South African cannabis plants growing in front of the Capitol building. I drive through Pretoria on my way back from the mines. Think about the routine my dad used to do when I was a kid about working down the mines, including the strange cockney accent. Not anything to do with his neurotic Jewish roots, which is why he chose that character and others.

There is a giant statue of Nelson Mandela, who I will later contemplate in Soweto in the bullethole-ridden house where he was born, and on Robben Island where he served 18 of his 27 years sentence.

And in front of this giant statue of Nelson Mandela there is an encampment. A plea by the indigenous Khoisan to have their land returned. On deaf ears.

No matter how big Mandela’s statues’ ears are. Still no.

How complicated is that?

In Soweto I learn of uprising, ownership, opportunity. I see the house where Desmond Tutu was born. He died last week. Soweto boasts itself the only neighborhood to produce not one, but two Nobel Peace Prize winners.

I smoke a joint staring at the giant floodlights that grace the street from Soweto to downtown Johannesburg. All movement was segregated and tracked. Blacks needed permission to be outside of Soweto for non-work purposes. It was policed using visibility and lighting.

On the back of gritty days in the South African inner city are plush dinners in the outskirts. I make friends in both places, of all races. As I do.

I decide that if I am ever to keep a Lamborghini, it will be in Jozi.

Smoking one joint a day doesn’t get me through the South African cannabis I bought and my host insists I take it with me rather than gifting it to him. It just causes husband trouble for him. I know the feeling. 

I look it up and realize that, holy shit, flying with weed domestically is decriminalized in South Africa. So I bag it up and pack it up and off to Cape Town I go.

The difference between Johannesburg and Cape Town feels a bit like the difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Incidentally it has also been decriminalized to fly with cannabis internal to the State of California. Cape Town is set up against Table Mountain and is beautiful.

The tablecloth – the wrap of fog and clouds that have a mood all of their own –  is different every day.

I see the difference between the two cities in terms of ethnicity, because it determines the feel of the cities for me. Joburg is 75-80% black, 5% “coloured” (that’s the last time I’m using that word for the Khoisan, the indigenous, even if it’s normal to use in South Africa it still makes me bristle), 5% Indian/Asian, and 10-15% white. 

Cape town is 40-45% Khoisan, 35-50% black, and 15% white. Whereas Joburg struck me as Modern Africa, and is closer to the national average for all of South Africa. Cape Town seems like a colonized powder keg. 

Cape Town Khoisan have been marginalized in a strange in between way. They had privileges during apartheid that blacks did not have, but weren’t privy to reparations and affirmative action that blacks have had since. They are often associated with drug abuse and petty crime.

Don’t have any personal experience to say anything about it. I see down and out people of all races in Cape Town.

I take some very dangerous walks through town.

Here, again, I stay in the posh outskirts. This time it is the Malibu of Cape Town – Camps Bay. I couchsurf with a creepy, rich dude who at first seems fine and then just doesn’t, and I leave a day early.

I do get to meet his alcoholic freeloading British roommate who has done admittedly impressive things like sell everything she owned to buy a plane and fly it around Africa on a whim until she ran out of money.

Happily and proudly get to say that I turned down all cocaine offered to me in South Africa. He pulls out some that he is proud of and I can see from across the room that it is the chalky Colombian crap. He’s just started doing drugs this year, some far younger ex-girlfriend introduced him to it. When I say no to the cocaine, he’s offended, and doesn’t believe that I can ID the difference in quality at all, let alone at a distance.

I take deep breaths as he projects his own drug ignorance on me.

He does let me smoke South African cannabis incessantly on his veranda, which is nice at first but when I go out there more often than his tobacco smoking roommate it gets old for them and they wrinkly their nose in judgment every time I start rolling a joint.

I tire of their judgment quickly. Instead I spend time in the townships talking to black people. I visit Robben Island and contemplate freedom.

All the white people I meet say that they protested against Apartheid.

All the black and indigenous people I meet say it hasn’t ended.

Cape Town elite seem oddly intellectually abusive and their behavior shows me some part of British South Africa – the wannabes, those descended from some who just didn’t want to be there, and weren’t wanted there. Strange attitudes, pining for the colonial continent yet feeling inferior to it. Judging USAmericans for not having European tastes, but then covering for divergence from European habits and products with rugged Africanism. 

Speaking of rugged, I do get out to see some of the Cape. Penguins.

Great White Sharks in the wild.

It sure is a beautiful corner of the world, even if I don’t like the city culture.

It is strange to be able to choose “African” as an identity. No matter how African one is, no matter how many years one’s people have been on the continent – there’s an automatic difference in privilege afforded those that due to the color of their skin cannot remove Africanness at convenience.

Perhaps this coerced transcendence of white supremacy is why Black Africa is so magical, and why South Africa is so as well –  for being made up of blackness as its majority, yet providing contrast in other colors.

And perhaps South Africa is magical for the same reason USAmerica is. It is a melting pot made up of different alloys with different histories yet some of the same methods and treatment as my own.

I know nothing, really, other than that it would take at least one lifetime to learn anything of the place… but I do know that South African cannabis is the best I’ve seen outside of the United States.


More African Cannabis:

Zanzibar:

Nigeria:

Rwanda:

Ghana:


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