Bongalong events hope to smash the stigma of dagga use

Organiser Johannes "Smokie Jo" Berkhout tells us more

15 April 2018 - 00:01 By Ufreida Ho
People are still being labelled and being punished for using dagga, says Bongalong event organiser, Johannes "Smokie Jo" Berkhout.
People are still being labelled and being punished for using dagga, says Bongalong event organiser, Johannes "Smokie Jo" Berkhout.
Image: 123RF\Cendeced

Sartorial porn for Johannes "Smokie Jo" Berkhout looks like a fine-cut navy blue suit made entirely of hemp. It's the dream outfit he wants to wear to the Bongalong events this year that take place on May 5 in Cape Town and Joburg. The mass gatherings are peaceful protests calling for the recognition that cannabis culture is a way of life and a choice for thousands of South Africans.

Berkhout says wearing a sharp hemp suit to the event will be his way of smashing the stigma of dagga use. He says: "For this year's Bongalongs we are asking people to wear their work clothes or whatever they wear every day because users are not all stoners - they are also the every person - the doctors, teachers, cleaners, lawyers and the person at the bank.

"People are still being labelled and still being punished, from being stigmatised to getting fired," says Berkhout, who is the event organiser and owner of the business Bongalong.

He swapped his industrial design job to run a business making bespoke bongs and other marijuana-use paraphernalia. He now employs four people and has been in operation for over four years.

Even his personal business growth speaks to a ballooning demand and a societal shift in thinking about legalising weed in South Africa, he believes. It's a new phase for the pro-legislation movement, he says, adding that managed properly a cannabis industry could create jobs, redirect police resources and push for better research and development of the medical benefits of cannabis.

The Bongalong walk in Johannesburg begins with a gathering at Mary Fitzgerald Square, while the Cape Town event will be a gathering outside parliament with music, speakers and other festivities. The gathering in Cape Town has in the past attracted almost 10,000 people and about 5,000 in Johannesburg.


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