Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: GCIS
Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: GCIS

As SA prepares to move to lockdown level 3 on Monday, it is testament to the puritanical fanaticism and mulish obstinacy of some in the government that cigarettes remain banned. On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the tobacco sales ban would remain "for health reasons", while allowing limited liquor sales.

It makes little sense — not least for the fiscus. On the face of it, it’s the alcohol ban that can be more easily justified for health reasons: keeping hospital beds clear has an immediate effect on management of the coronavirus. But there doesn’t seem to be any similar payoff to a nation going cold turkey on tobacco.

Not that this is happening in any case, as researchers at the University of Cape Town pointed out earlier this month: a survey of more than 12,000 smokers found a whopping 90% were simply getting their fix from the black market.

Of course, this will all sit well with police minister Bheki Cele, who seems to take an almost ghoulish delight in locking up people for the most minor of transgressions, while ignoring far more serious crime — not least by SA’s own security services. So, as the robbing of courier vans delivering online purchases picks up pace, expect the noble members of the police service to be otherwise occupied, checking smokers’ till slips on Cele’s orders. Never mind the law.