South African police Wednesday uprooted cannabis plants grown by indigenous activists who have camped outside President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office for more than three years, AFP reporters saw.
Their leader, wearing a traditional loincloth, clung to a shoulder-height plant as police dragged it across the presidential lawn in Pretoria before arresting him and three others.
“Police… you have declared war,” he shouted. “We have been here peacefully. We are coming for you,” warned the man, who calls himself King Khoisan South Africa.
The Khoisan were formerly known as Bushmen or Hottentots — a name coined by Dutch settlers in the 17h century, reflecting the clicks characteristic of their languages.
During the raid, another activist yelled in Afrikaans at the police, asking them: “For plants? For plants? You are rubbish people in uniforms.”
The group’s tarpaulin tents have been a fixture on the emerald lawns of the South African president’s office since 2018, when they began a campaign for official recognition of their languages.
They began growing cannabis in their vegetable garden some six months ago.
One of the tents is just metres (yards) away from a giant bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.
Around two dozen police, some in riot gear, others mounted on horseback and some with sniffer dogs, raided the small group.
Without giving names, police confirmed the arrests of three men and one woman, ranging in age from 22 to 54, at the Union Buildings.
“They were charged with dealing in dagga, illegal plantation and cultivation of dagga as well as failure to wear a face mask in public when ordered to do so by a police officer,” it said in a statement.
In 2018, South Africa’s top court decriminalized the private and personal use of cannabis in a landmark case that pitted law enforcement agencies against advocates of the plant, known locally as dagga.
South Africa’s Khoisan community is thought to number in the hundreds of thousands.