Swaziland: Growing marijuana helps widows support orphaned grandchildren

| June 1, 2015

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*Editors’ note: the names have been changed for security concerns

Angela Dlamini* walks deep into the forest near her home. After an hour’s trek, she starts to harvest her crop of pungent marijuana.

The 60-year-old is one of over two thousand elderly Swazi widows who secretly cultivate “Swazi Gold.” The marijuana is not only potent, it is also lucrative.

She knows what she is doing is illegal. But she thinks her choices are limited.

Mrs. Dlamini says, “My only son died in 2012 from HIV, along with his wife. He left six orphans for me to raise.” A tear wells up in her eye. She adds, “If I cultivate maize, the price is just [$4 U.S.] per bag. My grandchildren need [$80 U.S.] for school fees alone.”

Jikela Ngele works as a sociologist with Oxfam in Swaziland. She says: “These grandmothers live rough lives—sometimes police ignore their marijuana fields.”

There is a booming market for Swazi Gold in neighbouring South Africa. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa has the fastest growing market for illegal drugs in Africa.

Teko Siwela* is another marijuana grower. She began her plantation in 2013. Her two daughters died in 2011 after succumbing to complications associated with HIV. One grandchild was born with the virus and requires monthly hospital visits. Mrs. Siwela says, “They left four orphans. The kids always cry of hunger. What can I do? If I farm carrots or peas, wild monkeys will uproot them.”

Swaziland is a tiny kingdom with less than one-and-a-half million inhabitants. Old women and orphaned children do not receive welfare grants from the government.

Gretta Nolwazi is an economist at the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions. She says, “Marijuana brings decent profits of $700 per crop. It’s a lot of money for poor grandmothers.”

Mrs. Dlamini knows the crop well. She can harvest over 20 kilograms from her plot. As she pours a jug of milk for her four-year-old granddaughter, she declares, “I’m not a criminal. All my marijuana profits are eaten by school fees, food and medicine for these orphans.”