A bucket containing a soupy green mixture sits under a table in Nduna Ewrong-Nxumalo's consultation room in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa's economic hub.
The traditional healer, or sangoma, has trusted and prescribed the pungent mixture cannabis tea to his patients for years. "The ancestors gave us this holy plant," Ewrong-Nxumalo told AFP, scooping out a cupful.
"Healers who came before us and trained us showed us how to restore people's health with it," said the healer, wearing a leopard-skin vest and khaki trousers. "It is a plant to be respected and protected, and I'm happy the law is finally doing that."
Last month, South Africa's top court decriminalized the private and personal use of cannabis in a landmark case that pitted law enforcement agencies against advocates of the plant, known in the country as dagga.
The Constitutional Court ruling changed attitudes overnight while bringing interim legal relief to those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes by decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of dagga for private use. Parliament has 24 months to iron out legislative details such as permitted quantities.
For Siphelele Luthuli, 47, who was diagnosed with asthma in 2010, the court ruling has been a saving grace after years of secretly buying cannabis from a merchant in a dangerous part of Durban, on South Africa's southeastern coast. "It was illegal, so I had my secret merchant," she said. "For me, it is liberating to be able to have access to it."
'Holy plant from ancestors'
Luthuli, a tourism entrepreneur, turned to cannabis in her quest for a natural alternative to a heavy cocktail of steroids, which she said caused water retention and subsequent weight gain. In 2014, her doctor did not object when she suggested trying home-brewed cannabis tea—at a fraction of the cost of the Western treatment.
"I would boil it and Google a recipe, even though with my measurements it was not that accurate. But I found solace in knowing that you can never overdose on weed because it is natural," Luthuli said.
After taking the cannabis tea for almost a year she went back for a check-up and was declared asthma-free, she said. Dagga is sometimes seen as a gateway drug to harder substances. But Sipho Ntanzi, 23, a goat shearer, has steadfastly used it as a basic painkiller for years.
The powers of cannabis have been an open secret in his family for generations. "When I was growing up, my uncle used to brew cannabis tea for himself at home, and there was no problem or stigma attached to it," he said, adding: "No one had a problem with it unless you smoked it—then you would get into trouble."
As an adult, he started taking a cupful of the tea daily in the morning and evening. "After drinking it I feel stronger, and my system is refreshed," Ntanzi told AFP while sipping the tea at the sangoma's offices.
Criticizing Western medicine for despising traditional herbal remedies such as cannabis, Ntanzi said he takes a dose whenever he feels "a bit sick—to stop illness in its tracks."