Rasta rights and freedom in South AfricaRev Dr Wesley Mabuza (Chairperson, CLR Rights Commission): “In navigating South Africa’s social transition towards the end of the second decade of democracy, it is important to acknowledge the importance of social cohesion and respect for cultural and religious diversity as a basis for the very sustenance of the democratic order. The foundation for a solid democracy lies in the country’s ability to foster mutual respect and dialogue between different communities, including appreciation for religious diversity. This report provides for an important milestone in the latter journey not only in understanding the complex yet interestingly rich religious and social fabric of the Rastafari religion but also the contribution that could be derived from this community towards a human rights culture within the republic.”

The CRL (Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities) committed itself to investigating the issue of the Rastafarian religion, its practices, and the challenges it faces with the view to providing recommendations. Their mandate was to:

  1. Promote respect and further protection.
  2. Promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance and national unity.
  3. Foster mutual respect amongst different communities.
  4. Promote the rights of communities to develop their historically-diminished heritage.

Their recommendations were as follows:

South African Police Services (SAPS):

  1. Ganja (marijuana) should be legalized, not as a drug but as a holy herb for healing and incense during the spiritual ceremonies.
  2. Rasta priests should be able to carry on them at least 100 grams of ganja for spiritual purposes without prosecution.
  3. Police prejudices, discrimination and harassment of the Rasta should end.
  4. Raiding the Rasta houses and plantations without search warrants should be discouraged.
  5. Police should stop portraying and regarding the Rastas as criminals.
  6. There should be a moratorium on arrests involving ganja.
  7. The 1911 ganja ban in South Africa should be declassified.

Department of Justice:

  1. Review of the ban on ganja in South Africa should start in earnest.
  2. The Department should also review all the discriminatory laws that are inconsistent with the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, especially those against the Rastas.

Department of Education:

  1. Schools and places of work should respect and stop discriminating against Rastas and allow them to wear dreadlocks and beards.
  2. Accurate education should be given to all learners at schools and to all members of the South African society about the Rastafari way.
  3. Schools should recognize and allow the wearing of dreadlocks by students.
  4. There should be life orientation workshops about the Rastafari way of life and religion.
  5. The Rastafari language should be recognized as it is currently suppressed and suffers prejudice.

Department of Labour:

  1.  During the Rastafari holidays, the Rasta community members should be released from work or have special leave to celebrate their holidays, just like any other people during their religious holidays.
  2. The Rastafari dress code, especially in the workplace, should be respected, not looked down on.
  3. Prejudices and discrimination against Rastas in the workplace should be addressed.

Department of Environmental Affairs:

  1. The government, through the National Parks Board, should respect and recognize the Rastafari places of worship. they should therefore open up sacred places and sites for the Rastafari to use for worship.
  2. Access to the places of spiritual significance, mountains and rivers should be allowed.

Department of Correctional Services:

  1. Should also allow Rasta inmates to practise their religion in prison.
  2. Should allow Rastas in jail to be visited by a Rasta priest.
  3. Should provide the Rasta inmates with a proper Ital diet in prison.
  4. The Rasta’s spiritual worker should be authenticated and trained like other chaplains.
  5. Rastas arrested for carrying ganja should be treated differently to common law criminals.
  6. Correctional Services institutions should not force Rasta inmates to cut their hair and beard.

South African Council of Churches (SACC)

  1.  Tolerance of all religions, even by religious leaders, should be encouraged.
  2. Interfaith prayers should include Rastas.
  3. There should be life orientation workshops on the Rasta way of life and religion to combat ignorance of it.
  4. All religions should be treated equally.
  5. Co-operation between the Rastas and the SACC should be encouraged.

Department of Home Affairs

  1. Rastafari priests should be admitted by the state as Marriage officers and thus have the powers to sanctify and authenticate documents on behalf of their members.
  2. Rasta women, like Moslem women, should not be forced to wear their headscarves when being photographed for their IDs and passports.
  3. Rastafari holidays should be recognized by the state and employers just as they recognize those of other religions.

Department of Trade and Industry

  1. Intellectual property relating to Rasata products and art should be protected to prevent commercial abuse and reckless misuse of the Rasta brand.
  2. Commercial and food processing places should consider the Rasta Ital diet and respect it, just as they consider the diets of other religions.

Department of Arts and Culture

  1. Cultural restoration and an archive of research on all Rastafari matters should be established. It would occupy a central location where Rasta documents could be accessed.
  2. Rastafari research centres should be established where the Rastafari ethical codes could be kept.
  3. Accurate Rastafari literature of South African origin should be written.
  4. The Arts & Culture Department should invest money in celebrating reggae music and artists, especially on heritage days and cultural festivals.

The Media in General

  1. Media should desist from stereotyping the Tasta community as a ganja-smoking community.
  2. Media and broadcasters should always invite experts when discussing the Rastafari way of life.
  3. The media should allow Rastas the opportunity of truly reflecting and giving proper and true information about Rastafari.
  4. The rasta way of life should be portrayed as sacred, not as a fashionable way of life. the media should help address and change societal attitudes to the Rastas.

Local Governments

  1. Local government should make land available for the Rastafari tabernacle projects, economic development and the repatriation of members from abroad.