Born and brought up in Seshego, a township of Polokwane in Limpopo, Es Mamabolo (in the picture above) grew up listening to reggae when other young people of his age were listening to popular South African music of the time, such as kwaito.
That introduction to reggae music, was the genesis of his interest in cannabis and what qualities the plant had beyond smoking it and getting high. Historically, cannabis has been associated with Rastafarianism and reggae music, especially by black people both in Africa and in the African Diaspora.
Mamabolo, like many other cannabis entrepreneurs around the world have woken up to the possibilities for business presented by this multi-facetedd and complex plant. In South Africa, Mamabolo is one of many people who are lobbying government to open up spaces for entrepreneurs to enter into this highly regulated industry, driving conversations around the issue of the liberalization of laws. This shift in interest in cannabis farming, processing and tading in South Africa is happening in the context of a global shift in attitudes towards cannabis. This interest gained momentum especially when the United nations voted last year in December to move the scheduling of cannabis as a hard drug. This has allowed member nations to facilitate research into the cannabis possible medical remedies.
But now with new knowledge and new global research results increasingly pointing to other several qualities in the cannabis plant, ranging from therapeutic qualities and as a health food supplement to also producing industrial products such as hempcrete ( construction), biodegradable products that can replace the polluting plastic material, global interest in commercial exploitation of cannabis has picked up in a big way.
Governments globally are now increasingly reviewing their laws that criminalized the use of cannabis in anyway, from smoking to manufacturing hemp products, as scientists through their research have now found useful qualities for the cannabis plant. This has opened doors for corporates to commercially eploit the plant in manufacturing medicine and other industrial use from the byproducts of the cannabis plant. . In fact currently it is estimated that the value of this new industry globally stands at, while in South Africa it is estimated to be worth R27 billion Rands by 2023, leading to a heightened activity globally in reforming laws so that this plant can be commercially exploited to create wealth, create jobs and manufacture medicine to deal with modern day diseases afflicting people.
From the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Germany, UK to Africa, the rush for the ‘green gold’ is gaining momentum as big corporates and small time farmer in rural Eastern Cape and other pasts of the country such as KwaZulu-Natal want to cash in on this new emerging industry.
“I never knew that I was one day going to be involved in this business formally and legally. My life’s story is simple and straight forward. After matriculating, I left home and enrolled for a Diploma in financial management at the then Technikon Northern Transvaal (now Tshwane University of Technology). After graduating I joined the South African Revenue Services(SARS) at their head office in Pretoria, working in their Warehouse,” Mamabolo told CBA in an interview held in Maboneng.
He said it was while working at the warehouse when his attitude towards cannabis changed.
“While working in the warehouse, I was dismayed when my colleagues celebrated each time that the law enforcement unit of SARS brought in bags and bags of cannabis confiscated at country’s borders of entry. This continued for a long time until I had had enough and I resigned 15 years ago to explore other business opportunities.
Mamabolo for years worked the markets such as Bruma Flea Market and the Hatifield Flea Market in Pretoria, both run by B&B Markets. He was selling clothes and other accessories, but had his eye always on the cannabis market once government allowed trade in these products.
“That came recently when government allowed trading in cannabis products such as CBD products (under a South African Health Products Regulatory Authority SAHPRA exemption). I went straight into the business that I have always wanted to get into. I now get my CBD products manufactured by a legal facility that is compliant with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP compliant), and has a licence from SAHPRA to manufacture these products,. The facility is black owned” revealed Mamabolo.
Mamabolo has since left trading at markets and now has a new cannashop in trendy Maboneng, where he sells a range of legal cannabis derived products such as CBD oil, CBD infused sweets and other products.
Situated on Main Street right in the heart of Maboneng, which until recently when Covid-19 came and disrupted international tourism, was a place teeming with overseas tourists.
Irie Things opened two months ago, and on any given day it hosts a number of visitors to the shop, coming to shop around for CBD infused products, while others are simply curious and come in to learn more about cannabis.
“This is the thing, we have so many people from the community coming in here, and many of them want to learn more about what else cannabis can do to make the community live a healthy conscious lifestyle. And so I spend a lot of time explaining to them that cannabis has got so many uses, beyond just smoking to get high.
For example, hemp has got so many uses, such as creating biodegradable bags that could be used to replace plastics and therefore are environmentally friendly, construction material, oil to add to food, and so forth and so on,” Mamabolo explained.
The founder of the organization Cannabis Growers Association, of which he is President, he would like to see government involved in the community education programmes that his association is involved in by partnering with cannabis association like his and others that are already well established in South Africa.
“This way communities would come to appreciate fully the fact that cannabis is not just about smoking and getting high. There are many uses and dimensions to the use of cannabis. This will also assist in stimulating business interest in this new emerging industry by especially the youth and women. Now that the government is working at formalizing this industry, it is important that people from the rural areas, who have been growing and making money illegally and clandestinely for years are also given an opportunity to participate in this industry to eradicate poverty and create wealth for their families. Government must also consider expunging criminal records for cannabis related crimes to enable such people to register formal companies and operate legally in the industry.”
Irie Things does not only sell CBD products, but other wellness products as well such as Moringa that has always been used as traditional medicine by certain communities, various plant species, smoking accessories such as the bongo pipe, bags and designer clothes.
“Since we opened Irie Things, we have been busy, especially with people coming to find out more information about cannabis. Having said that, there are also those who come in looking for products with THC (the component that makes people high), and we explain to them that we do not sell such products as that is illegal. This is exactly where I think government must come in and educate our popular about the wide use of cannabis beyond just making people high. THC is in fact one component out of several others with different benefits to humans beyond smoking. As far as the recreational use of cannabis is concerned, I think government must fully legalise it so that they cut out the black market and government can get tax revenue from it.” Mamabolo reasoned.
The cannabis entrepreneur is definitely on a mission to play a role in the future of cannabis business in this country.
.Els Mamabolo is a delegate to a cannabis webinar organized by the Gauteng Provincial Government’s department of Economic Development in association with the Department of Agriculture and Rural development on Wednesday, 23 June 2021. The conference that will be attended by stakeholders in the cannabis business and government officials is titled Unlocking the Gauteng Cannabis Economy-Special Focus on the Regulatory Framework, and takes It takes place virtually from 10am to 12.30pm.