Mosime, S.M. (University of the North West)
OUR AFRICA, OUR TRADITION, OUR TOBACCO, OUR HERITAGE OUR CUSTOMS, OUR ROOTS, OUR GODS, OUR CURE LIVE AND LET LIVE
SM MOSIME: COMMUNICATIONS RESEARCH
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH WEST
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The custom of smoking tobacco originated as early as 100A.D., according to some sources. We are told that at first tobacco was used in religious rituals, but by the end of the 15th century, tobacco smoking had become a common personal practise throughout most of the Western Hemisphere. Tobacco contains nicotine, a liquid alkaloid isolated around 1509. Its best source is the tobacco plant (nicotian tabacus) which is produced annually at over 5 million tons around the world. We are told that when tobacco is smoked, most of the nicotine is destroyed or vaporised. Small doses stimulate respiratory processes, but larger doses cause inhibition of sympathetic and parasympathetic ganglia. Death results from respiratory paralysis. Nicotine has pronounced effects of the cardiovascular system. Peripheral vasoconstriction, artrial tachycardia, and an increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Because of its poisonous nature, nicotine (usually the sulphate) is used in insecticide sprays and dusts.
After reading about the impending amendment bill on tobacco products, a lot of academics and others have wanted to know how many smokers even know about nicotine, and what the health professionals of this country have done to inform and educate people about these things. We have the seen, in the past, a South Africa that arrested and punished people for their ignorance and poverty, but the new law indeed smacks of the absurd American Prohibition days, when illegal liquor bosses made fortunes, cops died, and alcoholism abounded. or the infamous old days when blacks and coloureds were barred from buying liquor and teams of police roamed every city to trap liquor smugglers and enforce a ridiculous law. Or even the maligned Immorality Act which led to police climbing rooftops to spy on alleged offenders. It was all every embarrassing, "The Mail" editorial observes (The Mail, Mafikeng). One need not even find out if, at this stage if the honourable Sydney Mafumadi has enough manpower for enforcement of tobacco laws. His forces are simply too busy to engage in petty enforcement. On the other hand will the health department then generate specially trained, low profile contingents of anti-tobacco police units, keeping a close and clandestine watch on people who dare smoke in public or the work place?
Criminals of this country have a field day, and it is unthinkable that while South Africans imbibe 55 million tons of brandy a year and that brandy has become South Africa's 'national drink, a sober no-smoking parliament can think about something called Tobacco Products Amendment Bill. "This bill simply makes a fool of legislation and must be abandoned immediately, says The Mail. We need to warn our leaders that smokers will defy this Draconian law which serves to control what people do in their lives. We cannot afford to be the laughing stock of the community", and of Africa as a whole. Do we need this prohibition so badly really? We need to admit that as government we have done nothing to make the nation aware of the ills of tobacco smoking, yet we want people in prison (is this even conceivable?). We are beginning to ask ourselves how many people in this country are aware of the dangers of nicotine poisoning. We are also asking if our government is serious about enforcing prohibition before it educates its people the same way that it did with AIDS (albeit carelessly impulsively) through awareness campaigns.
We have not seen a programme of action that particularly addresses tobacco abuse in new government. We are not convinced that the majority of our people know that cigarettes are drugs, and that smoking indeed kills. We are aware, as South Africans, that "speed kills" because the of the "Arrive Alive" messages in our media, which are repeated often, to a wide audience that covers the entire spectrum of our nation through a comprehensive media campaign. We commend government for this. We are indeed aware that the condom (viva condom!) is our friend because messages of "safe sex" are in our media daily, addressing the entire nation. We applaud the government for its loud messages on the killer disease AIDS. We are also aware that smoking is not good for pregnant mothers and children because we read this on a cigarette adverts, but our health conscious government has not taken the challenge, but passed the buck on to the tobacco industry. If government is serious, then these massages should have reached the ignorant majority whose relatives might have lost their lives through "unsafe smoking" It is the duty of government to educate, inform, and campaign when there is an emergency, and we are convinced the tobacco issue is not a priority. We do not deny it rightly belongs to our list of programmes. The people who will swell the prison statistics as soon as our ill-conceived and hurried legislation goes through, are the very same people we pretend to protect, and is there space in our prisons for smoking offenders?
Our traditional healers and Sangomas still prescribe the tobacco cocktails for many ailments. Will their surgeries, which qualify as public places or the workplace be taken to task when the new legislation goes through? In a cultural society reflected by the Rainbow Nation that we are, the Shakespearean quote that says "there are more things between heaven and earth than we know of" is often is called to mind (ukuthwasa has shown us so many angles to our culture we cannot dismiss smoking as a bad habit completely), as our people get discharged from the hospitals begin to revert to the traditional healer, who then resorts to the tobacco products and other herbs for a cure. These things have worked, including rituals for strains of mental illness, schizophrenia (if you will), epilepsy and other maladies. The business of smuggling dagga sees lots of money go into the pockets of those police people who sell the exhibit to the traditional healer (who has some good use for it) while he also collects cash from the offender, who then escapes and goes back to business. The illicit trade of dagga that continues to flourish in spite of prohibition. This democracy has not sought to find out how the traditional healers and sangomas and others use dagga. We do not know how they use tobacco, yet we now want tobacco to also go underground. When tobacco goes underground like dagga has, then South Africa will indeed be the laughing stock of Africa.
We talk about the African Renaissance and we then advance a Western argument that highlight the evils of tobacco ( an indigenous plant known to our ancestors and gods) and those of tobacco smoke without doing research into our indigenous medicine and healing rituals. We must never take lightly the many uses of tobacco products in traditional medicine and therapy. While most of us struggle to cure boils and warts and other lesions, struggle to find the quickest cure for tuberculosis, and continue to search for the cure for AIDS and schizophrenia, the traditional healer continues to use tobacco cocktails to assist many people with many aliments. I have known the concoction for healing asthma all my life... the traditional healers simply boil dagga and make a strong concoction which they prescribe. Large doses of this dagga extract are given to the patient to drink. In the absence of dagga, the healers use raw tobacco leaves and other herbs.
We need tobacco more than ever before now, because the traditional healer is also experimenting against AIDS. We are aware that most tobacco makes a backdoor entry into the school yard, but so do most prohibited drugs like mandrax and cocaine, as well as alcohol which South Africa and the world promotes. We also know that children imbibe alcohol, but we know that both the liquor and tobacco industries never intended their market for young people. Why pick on the tobacco industry only? This is extremely unfair and extremely high handed.
The argument that people of South Africa will find alternative jobs after losing their jobs in the tobacco industry does not hold water in a South Africa that is beginning to talk about a job summit. We simply have too, many problems to allow big organisations of the world to confuse us. We are about to hold general elections in the face of joblessness?
Information from our listening campaign inform us people are disillusioned with the retrenchments that they do not cope with. They do not get new jobs and they do not get assistance with business. We must look very closely at what happens at grassroots level before we speak about the World Bank and the World Health Organisation. Where have these organisations been all along? Do these organisations know what the real health hazards this place lie? Smoking in Africa is more a ritual than a bad habit. Ask most of our people why they smoke and they will give you a good answer. Ask any pipe smoking Xhosa woman, the one whose picture we use to adorn our tourist sites as she proudly shows off her umbaco dress and headgear, which can never be complete without that long pipe. To most of us the removal of the tobacco industry means that we will resort to planting it at home because we need it for our ancestral worship. Tobacco is an indigenous plant of Africa, which God placed at the African's disposal because he had a purpose for the plant. This government cannot begin to punish us for what the west did to our smoking habits. Why not go on a campaign to communicate the evils of smoking before you punish us by killing our jobs? This is cruel. The academic approach to this whole thing belongs to the World Bank and the World Health Organisation, but our approach must never only be academic., lest we head for a disaster. We are dealing with grassroots rural and urban people who are poor and ignorant, ill, frustrated, jobless and are simply crying out for help. We now want to do away with the Rothmans Soccer Cup, the Rothman's July Handicap, the Lexington Music Promotions and many other sponsorships! What will government give us in return? Some of us will continue to give our Amadlozi that vital puff once every family re-union and sniff and chew and drink the boiled tobacco concoctions before sunrise to say thanks to our ancestors. Is government going to arrest us. When the tobacco companies have left South Africa for Zimbabwe, will we smuggle our ancestral tobacco from Zimbabwe?
This whole thing is very ridiculous'. Why do we not ask the World Bank and the World Health Organisation to look at the liquor situation in this country before it pushes its suspicious agenda here. Why don't these people go to Zimbabwe first, where the tobacco plant is more superior? South Africa, the land of alcoholics(including child alcoholics), is becoming experimental ground for Western agendas and standards and thus talk about the African Renaissance becomes ridiculous.
We know that a high percentage of our African women use tobacco and tobacco snuff daily for various reasons including in African midwifery and African obstetrics. We know that our traditional healers use the tobacco brands for even those strains of venereal diseases our people dare not speak about in public.
The West knows very little about how the tobacco plant is used in the traditional Sense. Rites differ from place to place and from religion to religion, but we have learnt that the herb mostly used , next to garlic and other indigenous herbs, is tobacco.
In the age of the African Renaissance we cannot began to contradict ourselves unless we are pushing some remote (not Africa-relevant) agenda, at the expense of our already devastated unemployed, sick and confused grassroots people.
Africa loves and uses her herbs appropriately. The West promotes abuse and then talks about prohibition and redress, history has taught us. The type of redress referred to is never in favour of our people, but against them all the time. South Africa does not need external organisations to tell it where to go at this stage. Where were these organisations when apartheid polluted South Africa? Let us be warned. Let us solve our internal problems internally. Or does someone need a Nobel Prize? Our suspicion that this whole thing is driven by an anti-Renaissance agenda might see a very discontent South Africa. Let us once in a while, agree to be warned.
In conclusion, we grassroots Africans would like to continue to use of strains of the tobacco plant and its products for its many ceremonial and ritual uses so that the Gods do not go crazy because of our negligence of what they need from us as a way of gratitude and for liberating our country from Western forces of deceit which in due course will come in the form of a sheep in a wolf's skin.
Let our traditional and cultural healers as well as our exorcises be consulted. Let our homeopaths be consulted first. Let this sick country get an African cure, and let democracy rule supreme in our ailing land, and may the Gods bless us all in this age of reconciliation. May our tobacco remain in our land so that our ancestors are served. Long live the African Renaissance.
Our Bogwera (Abakhwetha) ritual is another area that uses lots and lots of tobacco products. By the end of initiation, our young people have used tobacco products extensively, but not irresponsibly. It is the smoke from the burning huts that become an environmental hazard.
So what do we say? Do we still want to be the slaves of the World Bank? Do we still wish to compare ourselves with the first world countries overseas? Do we than confuse the whole concept of the African Renaissance with the selfish quest to get Nobel Prizes and individual accolades at the expense of our grassroots people and our ancestors? Our Bojale (Tswana initiation of young women) uses tobacco products which are sniffed and used gynaecologically for several reasons. We need to do lots of research before we even think about legislation. Let us go back to our people please.