Swazi Gold

‘Swazi Gold’: Eswatini Grandparents Plant Cannabis to Make Ends Meet

‘Swazi Gold’ or today can be also called “Eswatini Gold”. Eswatini Grandparents Plant Cannabis to Make Ends Meet

A woman tends her crop
In the country’s northern Hhohho district, a lady tends to her harvest of roughly 30 young marijuana plants.

Many grandmothers are willing to incur the danger of illicit cultivation of the mountainous kingdom’s legendary “Swazi gold” in Nhlangano, in the south of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland).

A generation of grandparents is cultivating cannabis in what is known locally as the “Gardens of Eden,” many of them are sole caregivers for some of the countless children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has swept southern Africa.

Marijuana plantations are hidden away in the mountains’ woods. The Guardian observed 17 cannabis plant farms in one little community alone.

Noncedo Manguya is the breadwinner for her five grandkids as well as two additional youngsters from her extended family who were left in her care when their parents died. Manguya, 59, unable to find work or establish a company and now makes a living by illegally cultivating marijuana, or dagga, which she sells to South African traffickers.

“Poverty drove me to start this business.” There are no available positions. These youngsters must attend school, but the government provides little assistance. “I have to commit a crime, growing weed, to assure that I take care of them,” she explains.

“I had three children, but they all died, leaving me to care for five grandkids.” My children were all HIV positive and died as a result. I also look after two more children who are relatives of my late husband and whose parents are also deceased.”

Manguya is one of several women in the nation who make a living by growing marijuana.

In South Africa and Mozambique, a gram of cannabis, such Swazi gold strain, for example, costs seven to ten rand (approximately 50p), and it is resold for ten times the price.

With a population amount of 1.1 million people, Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has an unemployment rate of approximately 24 percent, a poverty rate of 52 percent, and a GDP growth rate of -3.3 percent.

With the highest HIV rate in the world, 150,000 children have been orphaned, leaving elder siblings or feeble grandparents to tend tiny children.

A smallholding in Eswatini
Eswatini smallholding. Women in remote regions have limited possibilities for earning a living.

According to the International Labor Organization ( ilo, 23.7 percent of women in Eswatini are unemployed, with at least half turning to sex work or other illegal professions including marijuana growing or selling smuggled alcohol.

“We cultivate Swazi gold, yes.” I’ve worked in the marijuana industry for 11 years. My Garden of Eden keeps us from going hungry. “Every day, the children have something to wear and something to eat, and our lives have improved,” Manguya adds.

The authorities use networks of spies in local communities to spy on these women, and some police personnel seek bribes.

“The marijuana trade attracts police interest. Police may destroy our produce or seize it if they find you after harvesting.

“Our market is in South Africa, but even if you manage to cross the border, clients might inform you that your cannabis is subpar, forcing you to sell at a reduced price or hunt for new clients.” This may expose you to criminal groups, culminating in robbery or rape.

“It’s difficult to be a woman in a country whose policies prioritize the wellbeing of women and children.”

Lessie Mbenyu lives in Mashobeni hamlet with her late mother’s sister. Her schooling is paid for by her aunt’s garden.

“I’m still in school, but because of Covid-19 lockdowns, we’ve been spending more time in the garden.” We will starve if our Swazi gold marijuana fails to thrive. My auntie leads the family, followed by her two children and my younger brother.

“We see no use in returning to school because we will not be able to find work, even if we become professors.” The government and its security forces want us to suffer.

“If they don’t want jails to be full with people who do criminal deals to live,” Mbenyu adds, “they should start distributing grants to youngsters and families impacted by HIV/AIDS.”

Hundreds of people were killed in Eswatini demonstrations in May. Demonstrators called for democratic changes and accused King Mswati of oppression. Rights organizations accused the royal house, including the king’s 15 wives, of living a luxury lifestyle while the majority of the population is impoverished.

According to Sibusiso Siyaya, a spokeswoman for the country’s biggest opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement, the monarch fails to prioritize the needs of the people.

“Communities turn to illicit ways of survival because King Mswati III’s regime has played a significant role in institutionalizing poverty,” he argues.

“The government has stifled the country’s economic progress by depending only on foreign direct investment for development.” “As a result, there has been a rise in unemployment and deterioration of public institutions, such as the health sector,” adds Siyaya.

“The government has minimized the work of organizations that have committed to fighting HIV/AIDS in our nation.” Interventions to improve community economic resilience have been launched. However, the government has failed to promote such projects in order for them to produce the expected effects,” he continues.

According to a spokesperson of the Swazi Rural Women’s Assembly, an organization dedicated to empowering rural women, more has to be done to provide quality jobs.

Mountains around Nhlangano village
Mountains around Nhlangano hamlet in Eswatini’s south, where many households rely on cannabis production for a living.

“Women are disproportionately affected, particularly in rural regions.” Farming Swazi gold is not something they want to do. They just have no other way of making money.

“As much as NGOs strive to help, there are many hurdles that must be addressed at the governing level.” “Poverty drives young women into sex work, exacerbating the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” she argues.

The geographical position of Eswatini, according to a Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity, contributed to the economic issues.

“Eswatini is a landlocked, hilly nation with insufficient land for our people to feed their families or engage in business activities.” In terms of marijuana cultivation, I understand the police have dealt with illegal elements that want to pollute our neighbourhoods. “Everything is in control,” he says.

“It is not true that Eswatini does not have adequate land for cultivation,” the opposition party said. There is idle land in the kingdom that is considered to belong to the monarch. The country must right the wrongs of a system that tried to enrich a few at the expense of the majority, particularly women and youth.”

There is now just one legal cannabis grower in Eswatini: the US-based Profile Solutions Inc, which has a 10-year license to cultivate and process medicinal cannabis and hemp.

Despite the dangers, the Swazi gold grandmothers refuse to enter the legal market: “Legalizing cannabis may pose a threat to our business, since prices may fall.” “We want the existing scenario to continue,” Mbenyu says.

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