This isn’t the first time we’ve visited the subject of aerial pesticide spraying in an vain attempt to eradicate Dagga. The subject last surfaced in the 2011/12 growing season in the Eastern Cape. SAPS Air Wing USA funded Squirrel helicopters were photographed in Lusikisiki with spray equipment full of Monsanto’s infamous ‘Roundup Turbo‘
It is now the 2014/15 growing season and the helicopters have returned. We had notification from a supporter via Facebook with photographs, and another independent conversation on the ground in Port t Johns by phone. As of this weekend (31st January 2015) the three Squirrel spray helicopters and the 4 door camera unit are grounded at a resort on the river outside PSJ. High winds are hampering spraying operations. (the roundup product label warns us of the dangers of spraying in winds over 10km/h).
Our source tells us the unit plan to go inland to Lusikisiki this week.
American funded involvement in the Southern Transkei/Eastern Cape isn’t a new concept. Extensive military manoeuvers were conducted as recently as two years ago in the area. The spray helicopters in commission with the SAPS Air Wing started entering the country in 2004. The US Drug Enforcement Agency donated them to up the stakes in the South African ‘War on Drugs’.
We are aware of the continued DEA sponsorship of equipment and expertise into SA in 2015 to combat the ‘drug scourge’ with recent reports of more DEA involvement on the streets of Cape Town.
More than 10 years have passed and still the authorities believe their drug ‘war’ is winnable. The DEA in particular know more than any other organisation how futile their attempts have been to thwart the sale and production of ‘illegal’ substances in the Americas.
It is easy to find news reports going back to the early 1980’s of dagga spraying operations, not only in the Transkei but in other established growing areas on the Eastern seaboard, notably KwaZulu Natal and even as a friendly gesture to our Southern African neighbours in Swaziland prior to the football World Cup in 2010.
The resultant newspaper reports of “Dagga Poisons Raise Environmental Alarm” and studies of an “Evidence Of Poison” from airborne crop spraying don’t seem to have had any impact on public sentiment over the last 30 years. If the spraying was being done over the suburbs of Johannesburg or Cape Town the reaction would probably be a tad more vocal.
So what to do? The environmental impact of ANY crop spraying whether for protection from pests, or the eradication of weed(s) is well know the world over. Do the SAPS pilots concerned have adequate training for crop spraying ops?. Police statements are conflicting. Some play down the risks to other crops, other statements warn that ‘if you don’t remove the dagga, all the crops will be killed’.
At the time of publication, we still had not found any Environmental Impact Study concerning Dagga Ops in either the Eastern Cape or KZN.
And what of the SAPS Air Wing itself? How come there is a dagga unit of 4 helicopters plus pilots and ground crew operating as we write, while the rest of the Air Wing ‘gathers dust‘, attracts controversy over pilot shortages, and reveals a list of maintenance woes that have crippled the majority of the fixed and rotary wing fleet.
The last time we did a presentation in Port Elizabeth, a supporter came up to us with startling information about reported birth defects in the Southern Transkei. In particular, cleft palates in newborns, were becoming more and more common. We have neither the time nor the resources to dedicate to research on the correlations between spraying and birth defects but a shallow trawl of the web does indeed substantiate this seemingly more concentrated birth defect phenomena in the E. Cape, some as recently as a year ago. The E. Cape regional health department concede there is a high prevalence of deformed births. As far back as 2008, international children’s medical charity ‘Operation Smile’ began a program of cleft palate surgery in the Transkei.
It makes you wonder doesn’t it? Even if it has nothing to do with the mist falling from the sky, what about the hundreds of discarded plastic 20l poison drums now being used to carry water? A bit of a flush out with sunlight soap and they are as good as new…..
There isn’t a single living organism on the mountainsides of Pondoland that isn’t affected by the aerial spraying. Roundup is indiscriminate. Undoubtedly there are huge tracts of land given over only to dagga cultivation in wildly inaccessible places at the heads of steep valleys, far from human habitation – but the spraying doesn’t stop at that. There have been reports of mamas in their food crops waving white flags as another low level pass commences over their kraals.
In 2003, the E. Cape Dept of Health published their findings on the matter of birth defects and agricultural pesticides.
Unsurprisingly, they found a correlation between the two.
It’s not just the South African cannabis community who should be incensed by this. All South Africans should be. Whatever your personal opinions are of the cannabis plant, the indiscriminate low level spraying of communities to eradicate the plant must surely seem wrong at every level?
After 30 years or more of Dagga Ops in the Transkei, did the harvests decrease? Did demand drop? Were the perpetrators brought to justice? Did anyone in rural Transkei benefit?
The SAPS Air Wing careers description informs the prospective candidate that Air Wing pilots “are used in many policing operations such as crime prevention, vehicle tracking and pursuit, dagga plantation spraying, crowd control and monitoring, VIP transport and even search and rescue operations.”
There are even bursaries for prospective trainee pilots in 2015 if you fancy some glamour and excitement in special operations.
One last thing worth mentioning – our local eyes and ears in PSJ remarked that the pilots have been engaged in conversation at the resort they are staying in. They all realise the far reaching affects of the spraying and they all feel bad about their assignment, but ‘a job’s a job’. They aren’t volunteers. “Some of them are even smoking weed” was the report we got two days ago……..
Even the pilots are innocent.