MBABANE: King Mswati allegedly entered into a multi-billion cannabis deal with Stem Holdings and subsequently manipulated provisions of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (POCA) by unleashing police officers on dagga farmers after Parliament refused to approve the Cannabis Bill, threatening the existence of the now controversial project.
Stem Holdings is a giant company based in the United States specializing in cannabis and hemp branded products with proprietary capabilities in sustainable cultivation, processing, extractionas well as retail and distribution operations aligned with State-by-State regulations.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News uncovered that on or around 2018 in the midst of escalating calls within the corridors of power to legalize dagga, local and international companies applied for the Cannabis license through the Ministry of Health but Stem Holdings allegedly approached royalty through the then Minister of Economic Planning and Development Prince Sihlangusemphi, a brother to King who was later appointed into a position within the army equivalent to that of Minister of Defense.
Reached for comments, Dr Simon Zwane, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health confirmed that various companies applied for the license but said as a Ministry empowered by the law to regulate the industry, they opted to set the record straight that no company has been awarded the license after learning that Stem Holdings claimed to have received preliminary approval in the country to grow and export dagga products.
“We need to clarify and set the record straight that the Ministry of Health is empowered by the law to grant such licenses but to date, no license has been granted by the current or previous Minister to any company to grow or export dagga products” said the Principal Secretary.
When asked to respond to our questions on the subject matter, Prince Shlangusemphi, the then Minister of Economic Planning and Development who was allegedly instrumental in facilitating the dagga deal joined the fast lane, he failed to respond to a specific question about the alleged dealings with Stem Holdings.
But on or around 25thMarch 2019, Adam Berk, the Stem Holdings Chief Executive Officer(CEO) confirmed in a report and or a press release that his company, through a Joint Venture with Profile Solutions had received preliminary approval to become the only licensed growing farm and processing plant for medical cannabis and industrial hemp in eSwatini for a period of ten (10) years.
“Stem Holdings Inc. is pleased to announce it has executed a definitive agreement dated March 22, 2019 to acquire South African Ventures Inc. SAV has a joint venture with Profile Solutions and a working capital surplus of approximately $11 million. The JV has received preliminary approval to become the only licensed growing farm and processing plant for medical cannabis and industrial hemp in The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) for a minimum of 10 years” said Adam Berk, in an article that was also published by the Cannabis Business Times.
This publication sent further questions through the office of Mauria Betts, the Stem Holdings Director of Branding and Public Relations to seek some clarity on the project that has triggered a cold war in the country between the citizens and authorities, however, no responses has been received at the time of compiling this report.
Reached for comments, Saladin Magagula, the Chairman of the Eswatini Cannabis Association (ECA) said as representatives of dagga farmers, they don’t want the industry to be captured by white monopoly capitalism.
“As much as we support Foreign Direct Investment, we don’t want white monopoly capitalism to completely take over the business from indigenous Swazis. We want everything to be grown and processed here, even if we involve investors, at least the growing part should be done by the citizens” said the Cannabis Associations Chairman.
But royal insiders told this publication that shortly after Parliament rejected the Cannabis Bill whose intention was to legally award Stem Holdings the license, Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini and Justice Minister Pholile Shakantu subsequently, manipulated provisions of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act(POCA) to target dagga farmers and MPs were flooded with complaints from the public to intervene.
Parliament documents in our possession suggests that on or around the 20thJuly 2020, Mduduzi ‘Bacede’ Mabuza, the Hosea Member of Parliament citing a clear conflict of interest, registered a motion without notice with the office of Speaker Petros Mavimbela calling upon the Justice Minister Pholile Shakantu to prepare a Bill that seeks to amend certain sections of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act(POCA) No 11 of 2018 to address among others, the selective targeting of a group of citizens, this resulted to the suspension of POCA through a Parliament resolution.
An independent investigation further uncovered that apart from the King and influential members of the royal family, senior Cabinet members with direct interest in the dagga deal and acquisition of the dagga license successfully lobbied few MPs to support the project, however, they were overpowered by the majority within House.
On or around 24 July 2020, subsequent to a ‘hot’ debate in the House of Assembly over POCA and a report by this publication exposing how Justice Minister Pholile Shakantu attempted and failed to intimidate MPs to reverse the resolution, Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini acting possibly in contempt of Parliament, subsequently called a press conference and overruled the House.
“It is important to state, and the parties accepted that Parliament Constitutional mandate excludes the suspension of any legislation that has been passed into Act. Parliament can only reject or amend a Bill and not suspend an Act” said the Prime Minister.
When reached for comments by this publication, Sifiso Khumalo described the decision by Parliament to suspend POCA as an attack to the rule of law adding that this might result to negative effects for the country at international level.
“I made my position clear on this matter in Parliament but it’s important to understand that Parliament is not above the Constitution and we must guard against an attack to the rule of law, something that might result to negative effects for the country at international level” said the Principal Government Legal Adviser.
But a separate independent investigation uncovered that on the very same day, Friday, 24 July 2020, while PM Ambrose Dlamini was addressing the media on the subject matter, former Senate Deputy President Ngomyayona Gamedze was holding a meeting with senior police officers at Matsapha, political insiders alleged that the law enforcement had been commanded to gather information to disqualify businessman Sifiso Mabuza from the race to Senate.
Reached for comments by this publication, the former Senate Deputy President who withdrew from the race to Parliament confirmed attending the said meeting but said he was asked simple questions.
“What is the angle of your story because I am not involved in this, my meeting with the police was not to fight any candidate. They asked me simple questions and I didn’t even record a statement” said the former Senate Deputy President.
Responding to further questions, Gamedze said Sifiso Mabuza was not an MP adding that he had nothing against him as he was also desperate for votes.
“Mabuza is not an MP, I have nothing against him, ‘’angimati’’, I couldn’t even approach him as he was like me, desperate for votes” he said.
But on or around 29 July 2020, a battalion of police officers from the highest investigation unit, Tingculungculu invaded two homes of businessman Sifiso Mabuza, harassed his family and tenants, in what the police described as a vetting process for the Senate candidate who was earlier cleared to stand for the elections.
MP Mduduzi ‘Bacede’ Mabuza, the powerful and politically connected legislator was quoted by the Times of Eswatini confirming that the harassment of his brother had nothing to do with the vetting but was triggered by the ‘hottest’ matters that were discussed in Parliament.
“This has nothing to do with my brother, but he is suffering because of my involvement over the hottest matters that were discussed in Parliament” said the MP.
Reached for comments by this Swaziland News, Themba Msibi, the former Speaker in the House of Assembly now Regional Administrator for the Lubombo region said even though vetting forms part of the elections process in the country, the vetting of Senate candidate Sifiso Mabuza leaves for more questions.
“Vetting forms part of the process for elections but it has never happened that a person be vetted while the elections were already in progress, this is new and more questionable. However, I can’t comment further as I am not close to the matter, maybe the police can explain this” said the former Speaker in the House of Parliament.
Superintendent Phindile Valakati, the Eswatini Police Spokesperson had not responded to our questions at the time of compiling this report, she also refused to divulge further information as reported by the Eswatini Observer, however, she confirmed that they were carrying on-going investigations on the Senate candidate for a case “they will not publicly disclose because that could compromise their case in a court of law”.
On or around 15 July 2020, The GrowthOp, an international Online publication specializing on cannabis news among others, quoting a report from this Swaziland News and the Times of Eswatini reported that Eswatini cannabis growers were threatening to burn sugar-cane fields in retaliation against government crackdown.
Analyses of the Bill suggests that in the event Parliament approves it in its current form, it will mark an end for the dagga farmers as citizens will face harsh sentences and fines amounting to E250,000.00, with possibilities of converting those with experience into cheap laborers for the capitalists.
But Adam Berk, the Stem Holdings CEO stated in the report and or a press release dated 25 March 2019 that was also shared to the company’s shareholders that the project was to commence with the construction of a facility to be situated within the Royal Science Technology Park in the second quarter of last year, 2019 and be completed in the fourth quarter of the same year.
The Joint Venture was highly expected to fund the construction of the facility at an estimated value of about E100million and it could not be ascertained whether the money had already been transferred to royalty at the time of compiling this report but insiders said government remains under pressure to speed-up the process of convincing Parliament to approve the Cannabis Amendment Bill.
“The eSwatini facility will rise on 2,500 acres at The Science Park Matsapha. The venture will fund the estimated $7.0 million construction cost of the facility using cash on hand and other non-dilutive sources of financing. The facility is expected to break ground in the second quarter and be finished in the fourth quarter” said the Stem Holdings CEO.
A diagram showing how a group of capitalists captured royalty to seize control of the dagga industry in eSwatini