(This Piece first appeared in the Weekend Post on 8 April 2017)
I have quite a full and busy life. So I really don’t find time in my daily routine to grow or smoke dagga. But friends of mine, who do find the time, are very excited to hear that the Western Cape High Court has last week seen to it that the chances of armed police bashing down their door and confiscating their favourite pot plant in the middle of the night, have now been significantly reduced. To be honest I have, for quite a long time now, considered what herbs people choose to grow in their own gardens or sprinkle on their own muffins to be completely and entirely their own business. The Western Cape High Court judge Dennis Davis has now taken the same view. I’ve read the judgment. Interestingly, Judge Davis does not seem to be very much of a dagga fan, but he clearly is a big fan of personal privacy and of the constitution of the Republic, that guarantees such personal privacy. In a nutshell, Judge Davis has told the legislature that while they are free to hold a view on what may or may not be good for society, they are not free to write legislation that deprives us to our right to privacy in our own homes on the basis of very flimsy evidence of possible societal harm (that in this case, is alleged will be caused by sprinkling dagga on your muffins)
While dagga laws only bother me on an intellectual on philosophical level, there are other state imposed attacks on my privacy and freedom that do trouble me in a much more practical sense. As you can imagine, controls and restrictions on my freedom to express myself in the built environment cause me particular frustration. I have a confession to make. In my back yard, I have a little wooden treehouse that I built in the Avocado Pear tree for my daughter’s seventh birthday. I have broken the law in building that structure. I have read the “National Building Regulations Act” again and again. I have read and re-read to regulations promulgated in terms of the Act. I have worked backward and forward through the SANS codes that have been “Deemed to Satisfy” the Act. Believe it or not these documents all confirm that that my daughter’s tree house is in fact a “building” that required me to have an approval letter from the Municipality’s Building Control Officer before I proceeded to build it. I can tell you that have made no attempt to obtain such a letter. In fact, as an act of public protest, I now refuse to ever make any attempt to obtain such a letter and in so doing publicly challenge the state to act. I challenge the long arm of the law to barge into my bedroom in the early hours and throw me into St Alban’s with other criminals. I make this challenge because in spite of the fact that it is a very pretty treehouse, made from very nice recycled timber, the Act mandates the state to affect my “imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months”.
And its not just tree houses. The state restricts me from selling Coca Cola from my living room as it contravenes the conditions of my property’s zoning. I have changed the colour of a balustrade of a property I own in Central. By doing this I broke the law because I require a permit to do this where the property is older than sixty years. If I build a staircase too steep to a study in my loft space, or if I build a ceiling to low in a room I allocate to my (very) short nephew, or if I keep six laying hens instead of the five that the bylaws permit, I get in to trouble with the authorities!
If I had time I would try to make an issue in the High Court about my treehouse. I think though I will not rush into a court action just yet (unless of course the Police to bash down my door tonight) I will rather invest the little time I have to start a discussion with you about privacy and about what level of meddling we should permit in what we do with our own time in the privacy of our own homes. And another thing! Just because judge Davis ruled against Dagga laws in this matter, does not mean you and I should label him a “Dope Head”. In the same way, just because I am miffed about having to consider jail time for building a treehouse, does not mean you should label me an “Anarchist” (not that I think that is a particularly bad label). My appeal is that we refrain from jumping to labels in an attempt to discredit, but rather that we mature to the point where we discuss, agree and find the way forward together. What do you think?