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UP IN SMOKE

Four arrested at the Union Buildings for growing and selling weed

King Khoisan SA makes a stand with a dagga plant removed by police. He was arrested by the South African Police Service for dagga possesion and other offences on Tuesday, 12 January, 2022. He and his family have been living in protest on the lawns of the Union Buildings for more than three years, demanding concessions for the Khoisan people. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

A man calling himself King Khoisan was among a group of people arrested on Wednesday, allegedly for growing and dealing in dagga. And for failing to wear a mask.

Three men and a woman were arrested at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday morning for “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”, according to police spokesperson Robert Netshiunda.

Cynthia Triegard, the wife of the man who calls himself King Khoisan, was among those arrested. Speaking to Daily Maverick, Triegard said that at around 7am, around two dozen police arrived at the Union Buildings to remove the marijuana plants that were growing on the property.

king khoisan dagga arrest
King Khoisan SA shields one of his dagga plants during an early-morning raid at the Union Buildings in Pretoria by the SAPS with other law enforment agencies. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

“They wanted to arrest the king but he resisted… he was dragged to the floor and eventually arrested. They also managed to remove the weed plants,” said Triegard.

“What they don’t understand is that those weed plants aren’t for recreation… they’re for medicinal purposes,” said Caroline Hendricks, who was at the Union Buildings at the time of the raid.

king khoisan dagga arrest
King Khoisan SA struggles with police after they removed one of his dagga plants. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

The arrests took place during “a multi-disciplinary and intelligence-driven operation”, said Netshiunda, adding that the group would appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court “in due course”.

The small group has been living in tents on the Union Buildings lawns for more than three years, demanding the official recognition of their language and negotiations over land ownership.

king khoisan dagga arrest
Police with the dagga plants they removed from the camp of King Khoisan SA at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

“We’re feeling quite sad about the arrests. The queen [Triegard] is also quite scared since she’s now without her husband… she’s worried that there might be more arrests,” said Hendricks.

The story of how the group of Khoisan people ended up on the lawn of the Union Buildings began in 2017. That year, King Khoisan and members of his family arrived to hand over a memorandum to then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. They stayed for 24 days and went on a hunger strike for 17 days.

In December 2017, the group also protested outside the Nasrec Expo Centre while the ANC’s national elective conference was under way. One member of the group, Christian Martin, had to be taken to hospital after experiencing chest pains.

king khoisan dagga arrest
A defiant King Khoisan SA (centre) with a fellow Khoisan activist and one of the dagga plants removed by police. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

The Khoisan group said at the time they were promised that a task team would be set up to look into their grievances. They then returned to the Eastern Cape.

The group’s demands have not changed since 2017:

  • The Khoisan to be declared South Africa’s first nation;
  • Their language and dialects to be made official;
  • Ownership of their ancestors’ land; and
  • To be classified not as coloured, but as Khoisan.

Because these demands were never met, King Khoisan and six others walked back to the Union Buildings in 2018 and have been there since.

king khoisan dagga arrest
King Khoisan SA is arrested by police for dagga possession. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

The group was often given food by people coming to see the Nelson Mandela statue and visiting the grounds, but once lockdown hit, they resorted to killing pigeons for sustenance.

Speaking to reporter Shiraaz Mohamed in 2020, King Khoisan said: “We will be here for 10 years, 15 years. We are prepared to die here for our cause.”

In November 2020, News24 reported that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure went to court for an eviction order to remove the group. It was later reported that Minister Patricia de Lille stopped the legal process on the grounds that the department had sought the court order without consulting her. DM

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  • The decisions made at the Union Building can’t get worse. Perhaps there have also been happy leaves involved. Perhaps not. If not, I suggest they leave the blokes to continue their trading. Perhaps the decisions will then improve. Desperate times call for desperate measures.