The government of South Africa recently conducted a study on the Rastafarian communities in the country. These Rastafarian communities are located in Knysna in the Western Cape, in Kimberly in the Northern Cape, in Durban, Mahikeng in North West, Mokomane Ga-Ramokgopa in Limpopo, and in Botshabelo and Mafora in the Free State.
They are one of South Africa’s highly marginalized communities facing problems like religious rights that run counter to African law. One such issue is the ownership of Dagga among Rastafarians. Dagga is another term for cannabis which is a plant known more commonly as marijuana. According to Rastafarians, since they use Dagga in spiritual ceremonies, for medicinal purposes, and as a measure of wisdom, they should be allowed to carry at most 100 grams wherever they go. Marijuana is illegal in South Africa hence the conflict. South African authorities harass and arrest anyone carrying marijuana regardless of religious beliefs. There are also raids and illegal arrests based solely on the fact that they are Rastafarians.
Tolerance is another issue that has to be addressed. From 2011 to 2012, the South African government held dialogues with the Rastafarian community to help them understand the culture of the group. It was a move towards better understanding of the religious and cultural differences. According to the members of the Rasta, even with the right to religious freedom in the country’s constitution, they are held back by many government agencies in practicing their beliefs. A simple situation that reflects this is the dreadlocks hair. Many schools and offices demand that dreadlocks be tied and restrained or even cut off. It creates a difficult situation for Rastafarians because dreads are part of their culture.
Another major concern is the religious holidays of the Rasta Movement. Most of these holidays celebrate milestones in the life of Haile Selassie like his coronation on November 2, his ceremonial birthday on January 6, and natal birthday on July 23. The Rasta members would want to be allowed to honor these days by not working but are often disallowed by their employers.
The Rastafarian communities also have their own language but they are not allowed to use them outside their communities without being suppressed or ridiculed. The way they dress is also an issue and they have problems whenever they want to worship outside of their communities.
Then there is the problem of Rastafarians in prison. They are not allowed to practice their religion or be visited by a Rasta guide. They cannot follow their Ital diet and have to cut their dreadlocks and beards.
Results of the Study
From the dialogues that were conducted, it came to the attention of the South African government of the many issues that the Rastafarian communities were suffering on a daily basis.
One of the recommendations was to get the media to stop giving the Rastafarian communities a bad image. They are currently being described as marijuana-crazed people with strange attires and weird attitudes. Instead of treating them as “poor cousins” they should be given full rights as South Africans with differing beliefs. Their way of life should be respected and they should not be forced to change their ways to conform to the general perception of what is acceptable in society.