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MBABANE – Other than having to play hide and seek with the police, dagga growers have another nemesis – the black mamba.

It has been gathered that most victims of black mamba bites are people cultivating dagga, and the biggest danger is that this is grown in areas highly inaccessible by vehicles, as cultivation, transportation or handling of the herb is illegal in the country. This results in dagga growers choosing places far from their homes to grow dagga, meaning that when one is bitten, it is difficult to get them to a health facility in time.

It has been gathered that dagga growers make their situation tough because when bitten, they quickly move away from the dagga fields before calling the emergency service, in an attempt to hide their dagga. This delays the acquiring of medical care. The black mamba bite causes paralysis of the muscles, making it difficult for the person to walk, talk or even breathe and then eventually, death occurs by suffocation. Moreover, its bite can kill within 20 minutes or more but this also depends on the individual.

According to the Eswatini Antivenom Foundation (EAF), the number of people bitten by the black mamba was high among dagga growers.
Thea Litschka-Koen, who is the founder of the organisation, said many of the victims revealed that they were bitten while in the dagga fields. Thea said the foundation was mainly concerned about the health of the individuals and would not go into detail about their farming activities.


She said the reason dagga growers were victims was because they worked in areas where snakes were common and that this was usually far from urban areas. She said they usually arrived at the hospital in a critical condition because they usually had to walk long distances after being bitten by snakes. Thea said when one was in the bush and bitten by a snake, the first thing they normally did was to try and run to the hospital. She said this was dangerous because running could lead to quicker death because this made the blood move faster through the body and at the same time transport the venom.

Thea said it was important for dagga growers to learn how to treat snake bites and to understand places where they were likely to be bitten. She added that they also needed to be prepared on what to do when one was bitten by a snake. She said for black mamba bites, it was important to use a tornique. This referred to the tying of the limb to slow the flow of the venom. However, she said one had to be very careful how they tied and the type of material they used.

She warned that shoe laces or wires should not be used as they could damage body tissue. “Use a wider cloth like a tie, leg of a pair of trousers or even shirt,” she said. Thea said once a person was tied, they needed to be taken to a health facility quickly and best if they could be lifted. Also, Thea revealed that the victims of the black mamba bites were usually teenage males to those around early 30s in age. He said this was because these were the most who were working in the fields to fend for their families, but in the end they ended up being bitten by black mambas.


She also mentioned that the foundation was willing to provide assistance in training the dagga growers so to prevent deaths. She said they could be taught on the type of first-aid to perform when one was bitten by a black mamba. Also, she said they could be trained on identifying snakes and what to do when one spotted a snake in the bush. Though most people who get bitten by black mambas survive due to the fast assistance by health professionals and EAF, some who survive the bite have been left with permanent damage to their mental health. This is because the venom causes difficulty in breathing, resulting in the blood failing to transport oxygen to the brain.

Noteworthy, dagga in the country is grown mainly in the Northern Hhohho, some parts of Shiselweni and also Manzini. Most of this is grown in mountainous areas because the climate favours the plant and there is availability of water because of the many rivers that pass through the mountains. Dagga growers also prefer mountainous areas because it is not easy access for police officers.

Dagga growers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were willing to undergo training but were afraid of being identified. They said it would be good to attend some workshops to learn how to handle snakes and that this could reduce the number of the snakebites. Some of the dagga growers said the training could go a long way in assisting them because in the dagga fields, even children and women worked there. “They are also victims and they need to be protected,” they said.

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