TimesLIVE 08 June 2020

To describe President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that tobacco products would be on sale from May 1 as a mere proposal was absurd, said the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita).

Fita made this remark in an affidavit at the weekend in its legal challenge contesting the continued ban on cigarette and tobacco product sales.

Fita said co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is opposing Fita’s application, had failed to provide any “intelligible basis” for the government’s U-turn regarding the ban.

Ramaphosa announced on April 23 that the sale of tobacco products would resume on May 1. However, later that week Dlamini-Zuma announced that the sale of tobacco products would not be allowed.

South Africans have been unable to purchase cigarettes since the start of the nationwide lockdown on March 26 2020. The restaurant business has been severely affected by the lockdown and some of those in the industry who are now jobless have resorted to trading illicit cigarettes as a means of survival.

Fita said Dlamini-Zuma had described the public announcement by Ramaphosa as a mere “proposal”.

“To describe the announcement as ‘proposals’ is preposterous. Throughout the lockdown, when Ramaphosa has spoken, South Africans have listened intently,” Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said in the affidavit.

Mnguni said what was also particularly unconvincing  was Dlamini-Zuma’s contrived argument that up until the moment of publishing the regulation banning the sale of tobacco products, the process was simply one of “consultation”, and therefore no reliance could be placed on Ramaphosa’s announcement.

“How can the public possibly be expected to believe this? If so, this would seriously undermine confidence in [Ramaphosa] himself.”

Mnguni said the overwhelming probability was that Ramaphosa would not have made the announcement without Dlamini-Zuma’s prior knowledge and concurrence.

“Nor is it likely that he would have made the announcement without the relevant ministers and advisory committee supporting this.”

Mnguni said it was troubling that, as at April 25, it appeared the consensus in the national coronavirus command council was to uplift the ban enforced in the level 5 and level 4 lockdown regulations.

“Despite this, the ban persists and remains in existence in the level 3 regulations. There is no indication when it might be uplifted, and the inescapable conclusion is that [Dlamini-Zuma] is intent on retaining it indefinitely, or for as long as possible,” Mnguni said.

Mnguni said Dlamini-Zuma had also failed to provide any basis for the failure to list cigarettes and tobacco products as basic goods.

“The regulations did not clarify what essential goods and services were. Cigarettes and tobacco products, being addictive and consumed by people, should be viewed as no less essential than other essential goods,” Mnguni said.

The matter is set to be heard in court this week.

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