Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has tried to put to rest assertions that he is being undermined by some cabinet ministers regarding the Covid-19 regulations, especially concerning the ban on the sale of tobacco products.

Almost two weeks ago Ramaphosa announced that the national lockdown would ease slightly from the beginning of May and that some businesses would reopen under strict conditions, but many of the restrictions would remain in place as the risk of infection remains high.

At the time he said the ban on the sale of cigarettes would be lifted, providing much relief for the country’s about 11-million smokers. 

However, on the eve of SA moving to level four of the risk-adjusted Covid-19 strategy, co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that after consultation, and 2,000 submissions from the public on the matter, the National Coronavirus Command Council had decided that the ban on the sale of tobacco products would remain in place.

This raised questions about whether she had overruled Ramaphosa on the decision to lift the ban.

Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter on Monday that he supports the ban, and noted that there is much public comment about the decision to extend it.

“A decision like this is bound to be controversial, but it is wrong to suggest that there are ministers or a president doing and saying whatever they want on this matter,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that after careful consideration and discussion, the council had reconsidered its position on tobacco.

“This was a collective decision, and the public statements by both myself and the minister [Dlamini-Zuma] were done on behalf of, and mandated by, the collective I lead.

Approach courts

“Every regulation we have put in place has been carefully considered. Along the way there has been consultation with medical experts, various constituencies and different industries. We have been guided by international bodies and the experience of other countries,” Ramaphosa said.

The tobacco industry is not taking the government’s decision to leave the ban in place lying down. British American Tobacco has written to Dlamini-Zuma demanding that the government overturn the prohibition by 10am on Monday or it will approach the courts.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), a lobby group that represents Southern African cigarette manufacturers, has also said it will approach the court to have the ban overturned.

Dlamini-Zuma’s opposition to the tobacco industry is well documented. She was the health minister when the government piloted tobacco control legislation through parliament in the late 1990s.

The government could be facing a number of court challenges on some the regulations put in place for the level four lockdown.

Ramaphosa warned in his newsletter that though SA’s reported Covid-19 infection numbers are lower than some other countries were at day 46, it does not mean the danger has passed.  

“We have not nearly reached the peak of infections in SA. All the scientific models show that the infection rate will continue to rise at a much faster rate in the next few months,”  he said.  

“However, the speed with which the virus spreads and the number of people who are ultimately infected will be determined by what we do now. That is why the easing of the lockdown needs to be gradual and cautious. It is for this reason that many regulations need to remain in place and why it is absolutely essential that people observe them,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said he understands that it is a difficult time and that the regulations are interfering with and limiting citizens rights, but that it is necessary.

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