Durban - The first punch has been thrown at President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosana Dlamini Zuma by one of the associations fighting for the ban on cigarette sales to be lifted during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) on Monday announced that it was taking the government to court.
The association argued that Dlamini Zuma is not legally permitted to ban the sale of cigarettes during Level 4 of the lockdown.
FITA is made up of six companies, which include Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation, Home of Cut Rag, Folha Manufactures, Best Tobacco Company, Afroberg Tobacco Manufacturing and Carnilinx.
FITA on Monday served the government with papers in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to challenge the decision to continue with the ban on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products during Level 4 of the lockdown. The urgent application was filed against Ramaphosa and Dlamini Zuma.
The association’s decision was somewhat surprising as the country expected the British American Tobacco (BAT) to be the first to drag Dlamini Zuma to court, after issuing a threat last week.
FITA’s chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said the decision to go to court was not taken lightly.
“We are relying on a number of legal principles in order to challenge this ban, which we feel is not lawful in the sense that the legislation which governs the lockdown period does not permit the government to take such a step.
“Now that would be left to the legal representatives to make a case as far as this is concerned. We are merely exercising our constitutional right as law-abiding citizens, we respect the rule of law,” Mnguni said.
Cogta’s spokesperson Lungi Mtshali did not respond when asked, among other questions, whether they will oppose the legal action or not.
The Presidency has not indicated if it will oppose the application or not.
BAT did not respond when asked whether they would go ahead with their threat and take the government to court over the ban.
On the other side of the battle, several civil society organisations joined the fray and welcomed the government’s decision to uphold the ban on tobacco sales, agreeing that tobacco use can worsen the progression of Covid-19.
In a joint statement, the organisations which include the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, said banning tobacco sales will reduce tobacco consumption, thereby reducing the burden of severe cases of Covid-19 on the health system.
“This decision by the government will help to reduce the impact of the pandemic by reducing the severity of disease in smokers who contract Covid-19. This decision will also reduce the demand on the health system by reducing the number of severe cases of Covid-19 that it has to treat,” they said in the joint statement.
Using his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa on Monday rebutted the assertion that Dlamini Zuma acted like a de-facto prime minister and overruled him after he initially told the country that Level 4, which kicked in on May 1, would see the ban on cigarette sales lifted.
He said there had been substantial public comment on the government’s decision to extend the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products into Level 4. He said it was expected that a decision like this was 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.
“This was based on the view of the National Coronavirus Command Council, and which was contained in the draft framework that was published for consultation.
“After careful consideration and discussion, the council reconsidered its position on tobacco. As a result, the regulations ratified by the Cabinet and announced by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on April 29 extended the prohibition. This was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the minister were made on behalf of, and mandated by the collective (that) I lead,” the president said.
He stressed that every regulation the government has put in place has been carefully considered.