Binga villagers want freedom to use mbanje

VILLAGERS in the country’s poorest district, Binga, in Matabeleland North have called on the government to legalise mbanje for medical purposes.

VILLAGERS in the country’s poorest district, Binga, in Matabeleland North have called on the government to legalise mbanje for medical purposes.

Own Correspondent

Despite the fact that smoking mbanje is illegal under Zimbabwean law, the villagers who use the drug as traditional medicine say they resorted to the practice after authorities failed to provide proper healthcare services for them.

Development in the predominantly Tonga populated area has been moving at a snail’s pace since independence in 1980.

“We have one government hospital and a few clinics with no medicine. This has forced villagers to use traditional medicines,” Mukombwe Dube, chairperson of the Binga Rural District Council (RDC), said.

Dube said the government hospital caters for over 150 000 villagers.

Consumption of mbanje is an integral part of Tonga culture and villagers want it to be legalised.

“We smoke mbanje to treat diseases like cancer, headaches and high blood pressure,” a 60-year-old Maria Mnenge of Tyunga area said.

“Police should stop arresting mbanje smokers and traders. It should be legalised. It has become part of our lives.”

Fainos Mudenda (45) of the Sinamatelele area said his family had been using it as a medicine for years.

“Even my wife smokes it when she is not feeling well. It is high time the government legalises mbanje since health facilities are not adequate in this area,” Mudenda said.

Several villagers have been arrested for dealing in mbanje in Binga in the past.

“Week in and week out several villagers are arrested and dragged to the local magistrate court,” a police officer based at Binga Police Station who declined to be named.

Old women smoking mbanje using a pipe locally known as ndombondo are a common sight in every village of Binga.

It has been part and parcel of their culture since time immemorial.

Calvin Mdimba, a Tonga elder, said: “Our forefathers smoked mbanje for medical purposes. We are appealing to the government to legalise it.”

Bulawayo resident Sinikiwe Hove supported the call by the people of Binga.

“If countries in North and South America can legalise mbanje, why ban it in Binga where it is part and parcel of their culture?”

Several researches by reputable scientific journals such as the British Journal of Cancer and the US National Library of Medicine have published evidence showing that mbanje can cure different types of cancers, including brain cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer.

South Africa is among many developing countries that have crafted proposed laws pushing for the legalisation of mbanje for medical and economic purposes, but Zimbabwe remains hesitant.

In January 2014, Colorado State in the United States (US) made $2 million in tax revenue in the first month of mbanje sales after it was legalised, according the US newspaper The Telegraph.

Colorado became the first State in the world to vote in favour of ending mbanje prohibition in 2012. Under the law, mbanje consumption is permitted in a manner similar to alcohol.

Last December, the Uruguayan parliament also approved a bill to legalise its sale. Medical Control Authority of Zimbabwe director Gugu Mahlangu said mbanje was unlikely to be regarded as a solution to poor health in the country.

“It appears to us that in Binga the drug is mainly used for recreational purposes. For that reason, it might be a long time before the government considers its medicinal value,” Mahlangu said.

“We are watching with interest developments in other jurisdictions and wait to learn from their experiences before this matter is even put on the table,” Mahlangu added.

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa said the government had no immediate plans to legalise mbanje.

“We do not want to rush into making a decision on the issue when debates and researches are on going worldwide,” he said.

In 2011, Zanu PF legislator, Simba Mudarikwa, who is now the Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs minister, called on the government to legalise mbanje saying it had medicinal values.

Mudarikwa’s calls were immediately rejected by his fellow legislators, including Agriculture minister Joseph Made who said the drug was dangerous to society.

Despite documented evidence on the health and economic benefits of mbanje, the raging debate on its legalisation remains a contentious issue. Recently, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) labelled changes to mbanje laws in Uruguay and Colorado a “very grave danger to public health”.

In its annual report released earlier this month, the INCB warned that “alternative drug regimes” could lead to higher levels of addiction.