Image: 123RF/ Nils Weymann
Image: 123RF/ Nils Weymann

It was sombre, the trip from my hometown Ladysmith to Mbabane in Swaziland.

My lovely dad was silent for a very large part of it. He muttered under his breath when we reached Newcastle, and then said nothing until we passed a sign that announced the turnoff to Daggakraal, north of Volksrust, south of Amersfoort.

At first the sounds coming from my father were indistinguishable. I knew better than to ask him to repeat himself or cluck my tongue sympathetically, or even nod.

I sat quietly in the passenger seat, tucked into my seatbelt in that 1973 Mercedes Benz, 280SE sedan.

I hadn’t wanted to come on this trip. I was home on a university break and certainly didn’t want to spend one of my precious holiday days in a hot car.

My lovely dad didn’t want me along either. I’ll be back by nightfall, he said, but my mother insisted. You’re very angry, she told my father sternly, then corrected herself: We’re very angry. She said something about him losing concentration on the road; how his mists of quiet rage – that my lovely dad apparently suffered from and which I never saw to the day he died – would affect that.

Rage, quiet or noisy was my mother’s go-to response to things. While my father gritted his teeth and shouted occasionally I never associated him with uncontrolled rage. He was too measured for that.

Then she told me to grab a sweater, get in the car and keep my father’s attention on the road.

A tall order for one given to sullen silences when made to do something she didn’t want to!

We set off early. If, as my dad said, we were to make the almost 800km journey in one day, it would mean nine or more hours of driving.

At this stage, I was still unsure as to why we were going to Swaziland, to Waterford Kamhlaba School, to pick up my brother Shaun in the middle of the term.

Shaun was in the sixth form with big final exams coming up so I couldn’t understand why we’d been dispatched to bring him home early.

And there was a shroud of secrecy around it. I heard my mother tell my father she’d fudge it with the staff at school.

Dad was headmaster of the high school and so his disappearing for a day, suddenly and with no warning or explanation, would have been very odd indeed.

Because they were so ridiculously honest, it didn’t occur to my mother to lie and misdirect the teachers as to where my father really was.

Only at the turnoff to Daggakraal did my father turn to me, finally, and say: Your brother is a bloody … scoundrel. A bloody... He stopped. He’d run out of bad names to call Shaun.

My lovely dad had almost no words of hate or spite in him, in fact, very few words in his lexicon that he could draw on to insult or humiliate or embarrass a person.

Eventually he told me that Shaun was being expelled. He’d been caught smoking dagga with a group of sixth formers and the headmaster, Michael Stern (who, in 1963, founded the first multiracial school in southern Africa as an answer to apartheid education policies), had decided to make an example of the lot of them.

Shaun was being sent home in disgrace, but would be allowed back just before the last term to write his final A Level exams.

My parents were humiliated. After all they’d done, all they’d sacrificed to give this ungrateful child a good education. My mother wandered around the house wringing her hands, kneading her temples… She prayed, pleading with The Lord to forgive her errant son.

Oh, the shame of it. The shame of it! What would the neighbours say? And the son of the headmaster… it would affect my father’s sense of authority; it would affect his standing in the community, and at church where he was a member of the St Vincent De Paul society.

Shaun was told to remain in doors, keep out of sight for the six weeks of imposed banishment so nobody would know he was home.

Apparently Shaun and a group of friends had been caught passing around a large joint in the rec room (how stupid can you get?) while they studied.

The teacher who shopped them was, Shaun and his friends told the headmaster, a “dagga rooker” too, but that didn’t seem to matter.

My father, after the initial horror had worn off, thought the punishment too harsh given that it was weeks away from the final exam that would determine entry into university or choice of careers for the suspended boys.

Shaun went on to get straight As and the choice of any university he liked. He chose Rhodes where he did a degree in music before moving to America where he composed music and taught at a boutique university called Chapman in Orange County, California.

Aged 49, he choked on a piece of steak in a restaurant, and died. Like me Shaun was an alcoholic.

Unlike me (12 years ago, this coming January, I went into rehab and got – and have stayed – sober) he battled with the booze until his death.

Here’s the thing. Shaun and I are addicts. And dagga is a gateway drug. It’s been forty-seven years since my little brother was shamed for smoking weed.

And so I note the irony when I say that I am more than a little concerned by the Constitutional Court’s ruling this week that legalises the private use of dagga.

Where will it end?

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – who took time out of the state capture hearings to do so – announced a unanimous verdict: certain sections of the legislation covering the use of dagga were unconstitutional.

I read somewhere that The Cannabis Development Council of South Africa (who knew such a body even existed?) were delighted that the ruling paved the way for “our people to benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry in this country.”

Apparently we can expect social upliftment and rural development and a host of medical products that will now be possible because dagga is legal.

Me? I’m worried. But then I’m an addict. Anything that is even vaguely mind-altering, or addictive – and freely available – makes me worry.

I hope that history proves my fears unfounded.

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