Fresh on the heels of multiple petitions lodged with the Parliament to repeal Act 41 of 1971, the Cannabis Revolution Reggae show has brought Namibians from across the country for a vibrant live event in the capital city.
Rain drops sparsely fall on the dancing figures in Zoo Park. Namibia's Reggae legends, Rasta Lando & The Internationals call out to the rain for blessing and healing, before the soothing base guitar melts into the air, mingling with the syrupy smoke of cannabis: "Rasta, don't worry" they sing, "everything is going to be alright".
Yet Ras Sheehama, a prominent Namibian reggae musician and activist who was previously charged for cannabis possession himself, explained that social pressure and discrimination makes it is unlikely to see a full representation of Namibia's marijuana consumers at events such as this, "which bank clerk will want to be seen here? Police officers, soldiers, anyone from any public institution won't come" he says, "especially when media is there". Still, Ras Sheehama admitted that the past two weeks, which have seen protest marchers to legalize cannabis in Namibia, have been a milestone where Namibian could be "freely outspoken...for the healing of the people in this lifetime".
For cannabis users music, especially reggae and rap, has played a central role in expressing the prosecution many have felt, and the gathering of established artists brought a measure of urgency to the concert on Saturday, with each band calling on the public to educate themselves on the history, culture and human rights of Namibians.
Another feature were the artisans and crafts persons who had come to sell their products and wares. Ras Mungowa a musician and maker of traditional clay, wooden and stone pipes from Rundu, had come to Windhoek in support for cannabis legalization, that he explains is a medicinal and traditional birthright, "We can use it to drink as a tea, we can use it on the wound to heal pain and, as a rastaman, it is a ritual, when I smoke I connect with the Most High Jah" (Jah or Yah is usually short for Yahweh or the Messiah). For Ras Mungowa cannabis is the source of inspiration, and its legalization implies an inclusion of nature.
“Nature connects with nature. When we talk about roots and culture, we need to include nature, to plant it (cannabis) as a tree and learn how to harvest, recognize seeds and benefit our economy,” Mungowa said.
The petition spearheaded by GUN (Ganja Users of Namibia) and RUF (Rastafari United Front) also calls on the Namibian government to recognize the industrial and economic benefits of cannabis regulation “for the growth of the national economy through the production of responsible, well-informed and progressive personal, social, recreational, cultural, medicinal, entrepreneurial and religious cannabis use.”
Concurrently, integrity and heritage of Namibians is a point that has been raised multiple times by both petitions submitted in Swakopmund and Windhoek to explain that prosecution extends beyond the Rastafarian community and their religious right to consume cannabis, which is considered a sacramental practice in Rastafarian faith. According to the petitions, “the unlawful harassment of cannabis users...and detention, violation and prosecution...are in direct violation of our human and constitutional rights as Namibian citizens.”
Inclusion and communal cohesion was the theme most evident at the gathering last Saturday. Rose from MeliRose Cakes and Biscuits, who treated the audience to delicious cupcakes, echoed this sentiment, pointing out the peaceful and safe atmosphere around us; "I can bring my kids here" she says.
Through clothing, entertainment, music, films and mass media, Cannabis and so-called Rastafarianism has permeated popular culture in Namibia and, if the concert attendants is any judge, has supporters from diverse age, socio-economic and ethnic and traditional groups in the country. Young musician Odette the Poet put on a stunning show, standing out among the giants of Namibian music. Beyond entertaining, Odette's Jamaican-influenced lyrics to her encore song, however, were pointed and direct: "Ayo drug squad/ have mercy pon di rasta/ don't arrest me for my ganja/ just a likkle sensimilia"
Her words underline that beneath the jovial and safe atmosphere on Saturday night, the fragile reality of fear of prosecution silently loomed over the concert, and once the last band wrapped up, it was the warning sound of a distant siren that suddenly dispersed the close-nit crowd of Namibians hopeful for cannabis reform.
Lavrenty Repin is a writer who locates his identity in colorful expressions of diversity and universal truths of love, respect and self-integrity.