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Rasta 'more than dagga, dreads and reggae'

Published Dec 15, 2000


All Rastafarian Gareth Prince wants to do is practise as a lawyer - and smoke dagga.

The 31-year-old law graduate from Cape Town has been involved in a three-year battle with the courts and the Law Society to be allowed to continue practising his religion, which involves smoking dagga, and to work in the profession for which he is qualified.

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Prince has a previous conviction for possession of dagga and the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope has found him unfit to practise law in light of this conviction and his avowed intention to continue using the drug.

He has now been asked by the Constitutional Court to explain to them in detail how dagga forms a part of Rastafari.

In their judgment, a full bench of judges of the Constitutional Court said: "While a member of a religious community may not determine for themselves which laws they will obey and which they will not, the state should, where it is reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting the believers to a choice between their faith and respect for the law."

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But Prince is adamant that he does not abuse the "holy herb" and uses it only for religious purposes not more than twice a day.

Saturday Argus met Prince at his home in Kraafontein this week to get a closer look at the life of a Rastafarian. Wearing a T-shirt depicting reggae star Peter Tosh, his hair in dreadlocks and barefoot, Prince welcomed us into his Uitspan Street home in the working-class northern suburbs of Cape Town.

The first thing that catches your eye as you enter the house is a hard-to-miss "no smoking" sign.

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Prince's lounge has potted love palms and other plants positioned around the room and exudes calm. On the diningroom table lies a book of scriptures which he was poring over when we arrived.

A peep into his bedroom later reveals walls adorned with pictures of Rastafarian legends such as Bob Marley and posters on human rights.

It is immediately obvious that he is a confident man who is passionate about his religion and eager for others to understand it fully.

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For most of our visit, nothing Prince did was out of the ordinary - he's just a normal person doing routine things at home. The only diversion was when he lit a joint while reading through the scriptures.

Prince got involved in Rastafari 11 years ago when he became disillusioned with the Dutch Reformed Church. "Our belief in God is reflected in every aspect of our lives and this involves the use of dagga. We don't only live out our faith on Sundays.

"Rastafari is much more than dagga, dreadlocks and reggae music. The fact that it is secular does not mean that our sacrament (dagga) is not sacred. Rastafari is a way of life.

"The reggae music we listen to is an educational force and spreads the gospel of Rastafari. The songs speak to people who have been subjugated and oppressed, while the dreadlocks represent a natural and unencumbered lifestyle," he said.

Rastafari is 25 years old in South Africa and its members are vegetarians and don't consume alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.

In the 1930s Haile Selassie was made emperor of Ethiopia "in fulfilment of biblical prophecy".

"We see him as the returned Messiah."

Prince said he did not smoke dagga before he went to work and preferred to meditate, read the scriptures and listen to reggae music.

"When I relax at night I will light up my first joint for the day. Dagga is a means to an end because it intensifies the state of mind.

"But we practise self-control and won't allow ourselves to abuse dagga."

Prince said smoking dagga was part of his life and religion and now he was being asked to choose between his faith and his profession.

He said most of Cape Town's dagga came from the Transkei and Swaziland and then landed in the black townships.

"It is the black man's gold. The unfortunate thing is that it is associated with rebelliousness," he said.

His case is expected to be dealt with in the Constitutional Court around the middle of next year.

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