MBABANE: Prince Sihlangusemphi, the then Minister of Economic Planning and Development who allegedly facilitated the now controversial multi-billion dagga deal involving King Mswati and Stem Holdings has come out to confirm meeting the company representatives but denies that the King approved any deal.
This comes after a highly investigative report by this Swaziland News that exposed how King Mswati entered into a multi-billion cannabis deal with Stem Holdings and subsequently unleashed police officers on dagga farmers through the provisions of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (POCA) as a political tactic to take over dagga farming business.
As the looming tension and public pressure on the matter intensify, the Prince who had earlier avoided questions in the midst an investigation by this publication subsequently rushed to the State-owned media on Saturday where he confirmed meeting Stem Holdings over a possible 10-year monopoly cannabis deal but said no agreement was signed.
“It’s true, the company approached us asking for a license to grow cannabis for ten years for medical purposes, however, that license was not granted” said when quoted by the National Radio.
But a subsequent investigation by this publication uncovered that the Prince who was later appointed into a position equivalent to that of Minister of Defense was one of the King’s trusted brothers who was managing King’s multi-billion deals through the Ministry of Economic Planning. When explaining the matter further, the Prince was on Sunday quoted by the Swazi Observer, a newspaper ‘owned’ and controlled by the King saying he doesn’t understand how the King could enter into a partnership with investors who met him because he met many investors.
“The government was of the view that every investor interested in such business should be given a chance to pitch their proposal with authorities. I fail to understand how the King can be partners with investors who met him as he met many investors” he said.
However, the Prince failed to explain the subsequent massive targeting of dagga farmers after the capitalists developed interest in the industry and the King’s interest in personally meeting with the investors as the law gives the Ministry of Health powers to approve such licenses.
Reached for comments earlier, 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.
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.
The cannabis deal subsequently triggered tensions within the Kingdom after the King’s government unleashed police officers to destroy dagga farmers and push them out of the business through the provisions of the Preventions of Organized Crime Act (POCA).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.
On or around August 2020, the King’s government in collaboration with a powerful political syndicate within Cabinet intensify moves to target MPs who were vocal against the systematic targeting of dagga farmers through the manipulation of the Preventions of Organized Crime Law.
Mduduzi ‘Bacede’ Mabuza, a Hosea Member of Parliament who moved a motion that resulted to the suspension of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act was subsequently arrested and charged for defeating the ends of justice among others as Cabinet intensify moves to force Parliament to pass the Cannabis Bill into law that would then enable government to award Stem Holdings the license.
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 labourers for the capitalists.
Reached for comments earlier by this publication, 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.