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Beyond the plumes of smoke the weed economy on a high

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In September, South Africa became the third country on the continent to pass a ruling favoring cannabis. Last month, Canada fully legalized its use. The world of business and medicine is slowly awakening to its benefits, weeding fact from fiction.

House of Tandoor, a trendy rooftop bar that pulsates with life on the weekends, with reggae music, dancers and cannabis smokers disappearing under thick clouds of smoke, is as quiet as a church when we visit on a Monday morning.

It is situated on Rockey Street in the vibrant, often-chaotic suburb of Yeoville in Johannesburg. This area is a hub for expatriates and small business owners plying their trade at informal markets.

Inside the bar at House of Tandoor on this September day is a tall, elderly man with a long beard, lost in the pages of a newspaper and smoking a joint.

It has been two weeks since the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg decriminalized the personal consumption of cannabis in private spaces.

In this small suburb, cannabis has always been an open secret, savored not-too-discreetly  in the smoky beer dens and even openly on the streets. Regulars swear this is where you find the best cannabis in town.

For 23 years, the tall man with the beard at the bar named Eric Mpobole has been a cannabis activist in South Africa. He is the co-owner of House of Tandoor.

“Here in Yeoville, this is a ganja village. It has been so for two decades. So for the government to decriminalize [ganja]… we decriminalized it a long time ago,” he tells FORBES AFRICA, exhaling smoke.

A weed plant growing in the outskirts of johannesburg. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

More than two decades ago, Mpobole started out at House of Tandoor as a sound engineer and DJ, with Langa Mradu.

In 2002, the two took over the place turning it into a hotspot for people wanting to sway to reggae music, indulge in a game of pool, and smoke a joint (rolled cannabis) or two.

Born and bred in the township of Soweto in Orlando East, to Rastafarian parents, Mpobole had his first taste of cannabis at the age of 13.

“I didn’t become Rastafarian, I was born Rasta,” he says.

The 50-year-old firmly believes cannabis (also called weed, dagga, ganga or marijuana) has helped keep him healthy.

Last year, he planted cannabis seeds, and they grew into a plantation he now calls the “plantation of God”.

This is in a bushy fenced-off area, located a 10-minute drive outside of Johannesburg’s central business district; he does not tell us where it is. He shows us a video of the plantation on his phone and you see four-meter-tall cannabis plants.

A few days before we meet him, he had harvested them for medicinal purposes. With the new ruling in South Africa, he plans to grow more cannabis at a bigger location.

Mpobole is hopeful the next step will be the commercialization of cannabis.

“We need to educate them [people] on how to grow, how to process it and how to take it to the market,” he says.

“If I was there in the decision room, I would suggest one thing, that why can’t we treat marijuana like any vegetable or any fruit?” he says, as he lights up yet another joint, and gets down to some pressing matters.

A new freedom?

In the afternoon, on a balcony at House of Tandoor, a group of men in dreadlocks sit relaxed under plumes of smoke, listening to the mellow tunes wafting in, and watching the hustle and bustle of Yeoville’s colorful streets below.

They are basking in the dawn of a new era, smoking cannabis in their own space without fear of the police.

It’s a new kind of freedom.

Mradu, the co-owner of House of Tandoor, is one of the men on the balcony.

He wears a beanie, dark shades and a psychedelic t-shirt with a graphic of Bob Marley smoking cannabis.

Before the ruling, Mradu says he had been arrested and detained by the police for possession of cannabis too many times to count.

“To me, ganja has been legalized, [but] it has been free all my life, because even if I get arrested, you find the same thing in prison.

“I even smoked in the prison cells, why must I be scared of the police?”

Mradu has been an advocate of cannabis ever since he was a boy growing up in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

He says he does not drink alcohol or take any drugs.

“People are saying no to ganja because they don’t know what it is,” he says, crushing a bud of cannabis in his palm, then delicately placing it on brown rolling paper. He licks the sticky end, carefully rolls the blunt in between his thumb and index finger and then strikes a match.

It lights up and he proceeds to take a deep puff, then deliciously exhales the smoke.

“The government should legalize ganja, but they have to teach people to know what is ganja, what does ganja do to a human being. They need to have programs on television and newspapers on what is ganja,” he reiterates.

Underneath his seat is a plastic bag with dozens of “bankies” (weed stuffed into transparent bank coin bags).

He says the strands of cannabis come from the neighboring Kingdom of eSwatini that locals refer to as Swazi Gold or Green House. It is grown in the Hhohho region in a wet and warm forest-filled town in the north called Piggs Peak.

Some of the weed smoked in South Africa allegedly also comes from Lesotho in the mountainous northeastern Mokhotlong district or from the rural outskirts of South Africa in Pondoland in the Eastern Cape.

It is an illicit market hard to track.

READ MORE: The Price Of Puff

According to the UN’s World Drug Report 2018, there were 151 countries that reported cannabis drug seizures between 2012 and 2016.

This means that the illicit market for cannabis consumption or trade is a thriving market that is still under the radar.

Cannabis has been illegal in South Africa since the early 20th century when the prohibition of the sale of cannabis came to pass.

In 1922, a period marked by extreme apartheid laws, regulations were issued under an amended Customs and Excises Duty Act that criminalized the possession and use of “habit-forming drugs” including dagga.

It also prohibited the cultivation and sale of the plant.

“This period in South African history [1850 to 1925] is marked by the rise of the segregationist state and the entrenchment of racist laws. It is argued that the prohibition of cannabis in South Africa was an almost inadvertent result of attempts to scientifically justify colonial oppression,” states researcher and historian Craig Paterson in his master’s thesis for Rhodes University in 2009.

In Prohibition & Resistance: A Socio-Political Exploration of the Changing Dynamics of the Southern African Cannabis Trade, c. 1850 – the present, he examines the trade of cannabis in South Africa after its prohibition.

In the 2018 ruling, the Constitutional Court found that the criminalization of cannabis (and its history) was characterized by racism as it was used by many indigenous South Africans and was not as harmful as historically argued.

Not entirely off the hook

In South Africa alone, statistics reveal that in 2015 – 2016, possession of cannabis made up a staggering 65% of all drug-related crimes recorded by the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) annual crime report.

These were people who were either caught in possession of or trading cannabis.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo from SAPS says “that drug [cannabis] is hardly ever imported. Most of the time, it is exported. Most of it is grown here, in and around the country”.

Although cannabis has been decriminalized to an extent, it does not mean cannabis users are entirely off the hook.

The Constitutional Court ruling does not mention the quantity of cannabis that qualifies as personal use and what qualifies as ‘dealing’.

“All I’m saying to people is they must interpret the ruling on their own. What we have done as an organization is we have given guidance to our police officers on how to conduct themselves,” says Naidoo.

He tells FORBES AFRICA that some arrests have been made even after the ruling; these were people found in possession of cannabis in a public space or ‘dealing’ it.

 

The dagga couple

On the outskirts of Johannesburg, in Lanseria, is a couple who have dedicated their lives advocating for cannabis.

A few days before their interview with FORBES AFRICA in September, they had cops at their door wanting to search their home.

On the Thursday morning we meet them, they are in their lodge, called the Jazz Farm, with a garden featuring plants of all kinds. Three dogs lie in the living room with not a care in the world.

The cannabis oil they make at home has become daily medicine for one of their pups suffering from arthritis.

In their living room, adorned with colorful art, a coffee table is the resting place for bongs, containers filled with cannabis, and lighters.

Myrtle Clarke, 53, and Julian Stobbs, 58, call themselves “the dagga couple”.

Myrtle Clarke and Stobbs. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

The pair who worked in South Africa’s film and media industry have been cannabis smokers for over 30 years.

But it was 2010, the year they got raided and arrested for the possession of cannabis, which triggered their fight for the rights of cannabis users.

At 2AM on a cold August morning that year, police were banging on their kitchen door. Stobbs opened it with nothing on but his underpants when six guns were stuck into his face.

“Have you got illegal drugs in this house?” the cop shouted.

The couple said yes and proceeded to show the police their stash.

They searched their home without a warrant, taking anything and everything related to cannabis, from books to bongs to buds.

They were convinced the couple were running a syndicate drug lab.

“We were totally in shock,” says Clarke, denying the allegations.

The police found no evidence of a drug lab, only cannabis that the couple consumed themselves.

After being detained by the police in their home for five hours, they were taken to the police station not far from their home for questioning, and kept in a shabby, smelly holding cell.

At 4PM the next day, they were released after a R1,000 ($70) bail.

They were charged with the possession of cannabis.

Their court appearance was supposed to take place early 2012, but was postponed.

In the meantime, they studied a book titled Cannabis Human Rights And The Law, given to them by a friend, and learned about the rights they have as cannabis users.

“There’s only a crime if there’s a victim, and [cannabis] is this victimless crime thing,” Clarke says.

In a turn of events, they went from being plaintiffs to defendants.

Instead of facing charges, the couple sued seven different government departments for human rights violations.

They claimed that the plant should be completely legalized to grow, buy, sell and use for recreational or medicinal use.

A year later, in 2013, they registered an NGO called Fields of Green for All aimed at reforming South Africa’s cannabis laws.

Their postponed trial eventually happened in August 2017.

However, nothing was concluded as “the court proceedings went over time”.

The couple are still awaiting a new date for the trial but in the meantime are doing everything they can to challenge South Africa’s cannabis laws.

They were invited as keynote speakers at the SA Drug Policy Week 2018 in October in Cape Town to enlighten and educate attendees on the use of cannabis.

In their kitchen, on the counter, is a large transparent jar with dozens of cannabis buds.

“Look at that, how can that be illegal, look how beautiful it is. It’s God’s gift. You think God made a mistake?” says Stobbs.

“Cannabis is just part of my persona, and I’m the proof that it doesn’t make you stupid or lazy, and we have achieved what we have achieved by being daily cannabis users.”

“It has been a fight because it’s very difficult to get people to take you seriously. But now that we’ve got the judgment, they will listen to us, at last,” adds Clarke.

The couple wish they could settle down and retire in their lodge but they want to continue the fight.

Next on their agenda? To achieve complete cannabis legalization in the country.

 

‘Marijuana ruined my life’

Critics of the cannabis ruling are concerned its legalization will cause more harm than good.

Twenty two-year-old Micheal Mojapelo has been clean off cannabis for four years now and has dedicated his life to helping drug abusers based in South Africa.

He is dressed in an orange shirt barely covering the tattoos on his left arm, and a green cap adorned with buttons, when we meet him.

He was only 12 years old when he first tried cannabis.

“The first time I smoked marijuana, I wanted to be cool. And then I found that marijuana did for me what I could not do for myself. Which is basically make me feel better about myself. It made me feel confident. It gave me self-esteem. But that’s because I have a disease of addiction,” he says, his voice thick with emotion.

And only when he turned 18 did his life change for the worse. In high school, he mixed with the wrong people and experimented with other drugs.

“I ended up dealing, and it wasn’t just marijuana. I used to deal crack cocaine, I used to deal kat. And I ended up living in a crack house,” he says.

As a result, he failed his matric year.

Reality sunk in and he was forced to make a decision to change his life for the sake of his family.

Making the decision to go to rehab, Mojapelo stopped smoking completely.

“I stopped because smoking marijuana ruined my life,” he tells FORBES AFRICA regretfully.

He checked into the Crossroads Recovery Centre, a drug rehabilitation center based in Johannesburg, where he met with Taku Mhonyera, who owns the branch and is the head of treatment.

“When he came to rehabilitation, he was just lazy. [His addiction] took away the motivation and life was passing by. That’s the whole point of this kind of stuff, so it’s sad to see when it’s in that form, you know,” says Mhonyera.

Mhonyera has dealt with over a thousand clients and drug abusers but he says cannabis abusers only make up a small percentage of them.

Micheal Mojapelo and Taku Mhonyera.

“When people end up in treatment, specifically because of marijuana, it’s very sad to see, because someone goes up and they can’t actually come down,” he says.

Despite the way the plant affected Mojapelo’s life, he is hopeful one day he can launch his own business to support his child. He wants nothing to do with the cannabis industry.

“The risks of cannabis are many. It is addictive and may lead to dependence and withdrawal. Intoxication may cause disturbances in levels of consciousness, perception or behavior,” says psychiatrist Hemant Nowbath, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) based in the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

“People who use cannabis have higher risks for depression and anxiety. Cannabis may also cause psychosis and lower the age of the onset of schizophrenia. Cannabis could impair cognitive functions leading to poor school performance and diminished achievement,” he adds.

“Motor coordination may be impaired leading to an effect on driving ability and the increased risk of injury. Acute cardiovascular effects including myocardial infarction and strokes may occur.”

Nowbath is concerned the new ruling could lead to greater abuse of cannabis, increase the rates of addiction, and aggravate the medical, psychosocial and psychiatric problems caused by it.

“In a country like South Africa marked by inequality and economic disparity, the vulnerable will be more significantly affected by these problems,” he adds.

The Constitutional Court has given parliament two years to update the legislation relating to marijuana to be in line with its ruling.

The next big business?

Since the September ruling, some businesses in South Africa are looking at innovative ways to cash in.

In Durban, a craft brewery called Poison City Brewing has created Poison Cannabis IPA and Durban Poison Cannabis Lager.

On its website, the company says that the Poison Cannabis IPA beverage contains hemp or Cannabis Sativa flavor, aroma and oils, while the Durban Poison Cannabis Lager contains no THC.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the key principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, is what gets one high.

The company, which was launched in March 2015, currently retails the drinks at select stores and on its website. The beers were launched in September.

Internationally, multi-billion dollar beverage brand Coca-Cola has also been looking closely.

“Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are watching the growth of this ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The current discussion had in North America was purely exploratory,” says the company in a statement to FORBES AFRICA.

But just how much is the global cannabis industry worth?

It is estimated that by 2022, the legal spending of cannabis in the rest of world would be $32 billion.

This was cited in The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, Sixth Edition, a report published by Arcview Market Research in partnership with BDS Analytics, a company that produces cannabis industry market trends and consumer insights.

“We are talking about an industry in which $12.9 billion will be spent this year,” Tom Adams, Managing Director of Industry Intelligence for BDS Analytics, tells FORBES AFRICA.

Tom Adams. Photo provided.

That’s up from $9.5 billion last year.

“There are lots of fast-growing industries, but I have never seen anything like this,” he adds.

News reports say Canopy Growth Corporation, a medical marijuana company in Canada, received $4 billion at the end of 2017 after an investment by Constellation Brands, maker of Corona beer.

Canopy Growth generated $54 million in revenue. Weed stocks surged as Canada prepared to legalize marijuana in October and Canopy Growth climbed more than 14%, hitting a record high of $57 a share.

All eyes are on Canada as it legalized recreational marijuana last month, becoming the second country in the world to do so after Uruguay.

Says Shane MacGuill, Head of Tobacco Research at market research provider Euromonitor International, in a press statement soon after the legalization of cannabis in Canada: “This full, (almost) no-holds-barred legalization of recreational cannabis – the first of its type in the world – is a historic landmark in the rapidly developing global debate.

The evolution of the Canadian market – and in particular its economic, excise and societal impact – will be closely monitored internationally by those looking for ballast on both sides of the policy conversation.

It also shifts the spotlight on to the next markets weighing liberalization moves – the neighboring US, Australia and some EU member states to name just a few of a what is set to become a rolling tide of legalization.”

Legalizing marijuana ‘edibles’ are next on Canada’s agenda according to a report by Bloomberg.

Despite cannabis being still illegal in many parts of the world, Adams says it is “a massive existing consumer product category”.

If countries opt to fully legalize cannabis and regulate its trade, he says there will be enormous economic benefits.

These include employment and business opportunities, health benefits, investments, and a line of by-products such as edibles, vape pens, and more that can have a multiplying effect.

“There’s an opportunity reached out into every field to capitalize on the fast-growing legal industry,” says Adams.

Adult use VS Medical Use. Graph: The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, Sixth Edition.

Adult-Use Over Medical-Use

Currently, many of the countries with partially-legalized cannabis have been reaping the benefits of medical marijuana.

It is estimated that by 2022, legal adult-use spending on cannabis will reach $20.9 billion, while medical spending will hit $11.2 billion. This $9.7 billion difference is in spite of the fact that medical-use is legalized in more countries than legal adult-use.

World Wide Legal Spending on Cannabis. Graph: The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, Sixth Edition.

“Even with the broadening of medical programs around the globe and strong medical sales, adult-use markets are expected to outpace medical-only markets by the end of this year,” the report says.

The illicit cannabis market, which remains untraceable, could potentially increase the value of the cannabis industry.

With its legalization, governments would also need a legal structure in place to ensure that it becomes a fully-functioning economy.

“You can have legalization, but if you don’t have regulation as well, the economic benefits just don’t appear,” says Adams.

Closer home, African countries have the best climate to grow cannabis.

“Much of Africa has the perfect climate for growing cannabis and economic situations that allow it to do it very cheaply because the labor costs are very low and therefore, this is a phenomenal opportunity for economic development for a lot of African countries,” he says.

However, only three countries on the continent have legalized the growing of cannabis to some extent, namely Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa.

Based on Paterson’s 2009 report, “It is hard to estimate either the quantity of cannabis produced in southern Africa or the monetary value of its trade.”

Many are not willing to disclose the numbers.

“In reality, very few people involved in the southern African cannabis trade have managed to dramatically improve their standard of living. Usually, they have only managed to supplement their income, or to create a limited source of extra income,” he says.

Additionally, locally-produced cannabis is done at a low price. This means that even the wholesalers and large-scale dealers of cannabis do not derive an exceptionally large income from it, he says.

However, according to Aadil Patel, National Head of the Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, a commercial law firm in South Africa, if Africa were to achieve full legalization of cannabis, this would result in many employment opportunities.

Aadil Patel. Photo provided

Because the South African climate is favorable for growing cannabis, “one can imagine the jobs that could be created through cannabis farms”, he tells FORBES AFRICA.

“The establishment of such farms will have a knock-on effect and create other employment opportunities related to the fields of business (including buyers, sellers, advertisers and other entrepreneurs), medicine and religion,” he says.

In terms of where the future of cannabis may go, Adams believes complete legalization around the world is sure to happen and it is only a matter of time.

But until then, those operating in the illicit market will be the only

ones benefiting.

On a global scale, investors are silently monitoring the growing trends of what could be the next big emerging market.

It would be interesting to see, much like many of Africa’s natural resources, whether a small hairy green cannabis bud would light up the African economy.

 

Medical Marijuana

A banky of weed. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

Cannabis is widely debated to have different medical benefits.

Researchers have shown the chemical compounds in marijuana have medicinal applications. According to Medical Cannabis Dispensary, a South African online resource for medical marijuana, cannabis could assist people suffering with the following diseases.

1.Alzheimer’s: Studies have shown that marijuana may be effective in inhibiting the progression of this disease through a variety of biological mechanisms.

2.Cancer: Some doctors prescribe the use of marijuana as an aid to help combat the disease and mollify the effects of chemotherapy. “Studies have also shown a positive effect in regards to inhibiting tumor growth in leukemia and breast cancer as well as the invasion of cervical cancer, liver cancer, brain cancer and lung cancer cells,” says the Medical Cannabis Dispensary.

3.Arthritis: Studies have shown that medical marijuana has the ability to reduce joint inflammation and related pain symptoms.

4.Glaucoma: The use of medical marijuana can not only help stop the damage caused by intraocular pressure, but can also help reverse deterioration of the optic nerve.

5.HIV: Medical marijuana is effective in treating the symptoms caused by many HIV medications, including nausea, lack of appetite, nerve pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

6.Pain relief: One of the most common uses of medical marijuana is for the treatment of chronic pain. Cannabinoids, the medical compound found in marijuana, has pain-relieving (analgesic) properties.

 

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Going Once, Going Twice! The Evolution Of Auctions

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Online auctions are gaining popularity, but the traditionalists are still sold on the idea of live auctions that guarantee a good show, with emotions and bids running high.


In an industrialized area approximately 30 minutes from Sandton, the commercial hub of Johannesburg, is a shining fleet of trucks, parked and ready to be sold to the highest bidder.

The sun reflects off the windshields in the direction of the registered bidders as they sit under red outdoor umbrellas at the entrance of the property. 

Some opt for refreshments, while others make small talk with their competition.

A man uses this time to make phone calls to a mechanic, who discourages him from making a regrettable bid on a “non-runner”.

He runs towards the towering fleet of trucks, where he joins the eager buyers as they take a final peek before the auction begins.

We are at Aucor Auctioneers’ popular commercial auction, at their head office in Midrand.

After spending four hours traveling to Johannesburg from Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province), for the auction, Charles Malibe gets into a heated bidding war that lasts no longer than a minute but is packed with plenty of fervent action.

Charles Malibe in a heated bidding war for a truck. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

It is noon and an overjoyed Malibe has just won a R465,000 ($32,401) bid on a second-hand truck.

“I attended my first auction three years ago. Sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get the right stuff at the right price. It is good to be exposed to new things. I went to Durban once, but I did not get anything there. It was not a waste. It is not only about getting things, it gives you exposure,” he says.

As Malibe heads back to Nelspruit, the auctioneer remains chanting until the last vehicle is sold, with the crowd getting smaller with each purchase.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant, manages the national marketing for the 51-year-old auctioneering company.

Digitalization has disrupted traditional norms of advertising, and has made the industry more accessible for both buyers and sellers. 

“Selling any asset boils down to supply and demand. The advantage of buying in an auction is cutting out the middleman, saving that money and getting something of real top value,” he says.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

 Marketing the call to action remains a vital component for the business. 

“Social media has to be on point when we market a particular auction,” Babamia says.

Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the biggest platforms, apart from the traditional pamphlets and website advertising strategies.

According to Babamia, online bidding has pulled in more numbers over the past four years.

He sees a rapid transformation in the auctions landscape in the foreseeable future.

According to a South African Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) report, Gauteng is the highest province of interest with over 6,000 potential buyers (for all kinds of auctions including residential properties, retail vehicles, jewelry and collectables) on its website, while the Northern Cape is the lowest with just over 1,000 buyers.

The traditional means of auctioning have had to make way for digital platforms that have been steadily increasing over the last decade.

SAIA records close to 100,000 visitors to online auctions in 2010; the first half of 2019 is already at 400,000 visitors.

Last year’s record 600,000 visitors reflect that the online market could be just as lucrative as the live auctions.

READ MORE | ‘Stolen’ Tutankhamun Bust Puts Britain’s Museums And Auctioneers Back Under the Spotlight

As the state of the South African economy remains uncertain, Babamia suggests that auctioneering will always provide a cheaper option to consumers.

An industry that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years continues to grow despite its many iterations over the years.

Ancient Greek records on auctions dating as far back as 500BC show women were auctioned off to become wives.

Auctions were popular for family estates and the selling of war plunder in Rome.

As a result of the great depression in the 1900s, the United States opened auction schools to generate income as businesses and individuals needed to liquidate assets to withstand the economic crisis.

In recent times, market trends have changed dramatically to adapt to socioeconomic norms.

A shift to online auctioneering has been a great development and contributor to the fluid industry.

 Orbis Research reports that the global online auction market is expected to grow during the period 2018-2022 with a 7.2% compound annual growth rate.

“Another major trend witnessed in the online auction is the immense impact of artificial intelligence (AI). AI’s main role in an online auction is to perform different tasks such as processing internal operations, customer-service inquiries, delivery and product packaging. In the last years, AI has instigated a gradual shift, from conventional auction to online auction,” the report states.

The increase in sales of art-based goods through online auctions is a key market driver.

Traditional live auctions, however, are still a preferred option for bargain-hunters, despite the global steer towards digitalization.

This is according to fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. in the affluent northern suburb of Johannesburg, Houghton Estate.  

Fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Moving to simpler models will improve the industry by providing a greater competitive edge, he says.  

“There is a growing interest and understanding of auctions across a broad section of people where, maybe, a couple of decades ago it was seen as just for the very rich people doing very rich things.

“People are realizing that it is a great way of finding weird and beautiful objects, artwork and furniture at quite reasonable prices,” he says.

The increase of auction houses in South Africa offers a variety to buyers and sellers, with SAIA having 80,546 members registered by April 2019. As a result, the art and design market is at an advantage.

“The South African art market on auction is always evolving and broadening. The importance to history and art history is being realized and there is a growing interest and demand for these. It is encouraging a lot of the younger artists working with galleries to look at the history and heritage of artistic practice in this country,” Crossley says.

“With growing appreciation for South African and African art overseas, a couple of international houses based in England regularly do sales of more historical work. The audience overseas means a lot for the artists, the country and the future.”

Selling or buying art on auction engages the audience as well as the creator.

“The gallery, thus, becomes the primary market where young artists can build their careers; whereas auctions and private individuals with a passion for art can sell work they own, re-invest in other artists, or buy.

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‘South Africans Love Martyrs’

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The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.


At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.

These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.

Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.

“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.

 In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.

A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

 “There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.

Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”

Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.

Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.

Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.

The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.

“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.

READ MORE | Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.

Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.

Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”

Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.

READ MORE | Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

 In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.

“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.

Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath. 

“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.     

No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.

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Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs

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With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?


The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.

Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena. 

The total cost of this union: almost $300,000. 

“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.

The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube.  Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.

“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.

Snow-white beaches of Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.

This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.

“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.

The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.

“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.

Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.

For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.  

The color white was indeed conspicuous.

“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.

The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.

Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.

“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza (middle) with wedding guests in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.

“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,”  Thamaga says. 

She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.

“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.

“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.

In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.

“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.

However, her job is not always alluring.


Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza’s wedding in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says. 

Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).

The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of. 

“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.” 

Only the affluent sign up.

“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),”  Thamaga says.

She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned. 

Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.

One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.

“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.

“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”

Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.

“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.

But she opted to remain boutique.

“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.” 

She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.

“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.

Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied

Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.

As, people never stop getting married.

The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.

A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.

Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”

A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. 

He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally. 

Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design. 

“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.

He is a luxury designer. 

“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”

He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.

“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.

Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.

The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied 

“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.

Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.

“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.

Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.

“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.

“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.

His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.

“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.

“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.

He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.

“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”

West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.

“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West with his clients. Picture: Supplied

His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.

He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.

“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”

A good photographer needs to have foresight.

“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.

Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach

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