Government’s controversial tobacco ban is now facing numerous challenges on all fronts, with AfriForum being the latest party to enter the legal fray.
As South Africa awaits official word from Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), on regulations which will govern the risk-adjusted strategy at Level 3 lockdown, the battle to unban tobacco builds more momentum.
While Dlamini-Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa attempt to fend off a strong legal challenge brought by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), other organisations and political parties are readying their responses in anticipation of government gazetting the continued ban on cigarettes.
Cigarette ban faces heavy fire
AfriForum confirmed that its legal counsel, represented by Daniël Eloff, had written a letter of demand addressed to Dlamini-Zuma as the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and chair of the NCCC. Ernst Roets, Head of Policy and Action at AfriForum, has argued that the protracted prohibition of tobacco under lockdown lacks rational or scientific reasoning.
As such, AfriForum has called for the sale and purchase of tobacco to be permitted under Level 3 lockdown. Roets added:
“If the Minister does not respond adequately to AfriForum’s letter by 3 June 2020, further legal action will be considered.”
AfriForum added that allegations of collusion between Dlamini-Zuma and self-confessed illicit cigarette smuggler, Adriano Mazzotti, remained a major concern.
Bruised AfriForum eyes another courtroom showdown
The latest challenge laid down by AfriForum follows a series of courtroom setbacks. The organisation, which, together with trade union Solidarity, fought vehemently against Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, was ultimately unable to overturn the B-BBEE requirements attached to COVID-19 relief funding.
AfriForum has since embarked on similar legal recourse involving the Department of Small Business Development’s BBE requirements.
DA’s Steenhuisen on ‘irrational’ prohibition
The Democratic Alliance (DA), which launched a serious legal challenge during Level 4 lockdown, has also called on Ramaphosa to provide clarity regarding consultative processes which have been cited as primary factors in determining regulations. Reacting to President Ramaphosa latest speech, Dean Macpherson, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, wrote:
“In President Ramaphosa’s speech, he said that he had consulted “widely” in the move to Level 3. While the DA by and large supports this, it is important he provides us with the list of who he consulted with.
Did he consult with tobacco companies? Did he consult with hairdressers on their continued exclusion from operating and did he consult with the liquor industry on the reduced trading hours which will lead to long queues outside bottle stores?”
The DA has been critical of government’s continued cigarette ban, with party leader, John Steenhuisen, stating that “there is no rational argument for the continued ban on cigarettes”.