Durban - President Cyril Ramaphosa has come out in support of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, following days of knives being drawn against the cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister.
Dlamini-Zuma has been under vicious onslaught after being accused of reversing Ramaphosa’s decision on the sale of cigarettes during the lockdown.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko on Sunday said those who insinuated that Dlamini-Zuma downplayed the president’s decision on the matter were wrong.
“Any assertion that Minister Dlamini-Zuma acted unilaterally and outside of the decisions of the Cabinet on the prohibition of the sale of tobacco is baseless and unfounded. The minister’s announcements on the restriction of tobacco sales are consistent with the collective decision of the Cabinet,” she said.
Diko said while Ramaphosa announced the sale of cigarettes would be allowed during Level 4 of the lockdown, he did specify that the decision was still going to be debated.
Ramaphosa’s support comes a day before the raging war between the tobacco industry and Dlamini-Zuma seems to be headed for the courts, as stakeholders remain steadfast to force the lifting of the ban on the sale of cigarettes.
British American Tobacco SA (BATSA) said it was seeking urgent clarity on the decision-making process that led to the government imposing an indefinite ban on the legal sale of tobacco products.
BATSA said: “Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma admitted that some 70 000 submissions were received across a variety of topics. The largest number (over 20 000), according to the minister, related to exercise; 2 000 submissions were, again according to the minister, received about tobacco products.
“Yet, despite this, the only previously and correctly announced decision that was reversed as a result of the submissions related to the sale of cigarettes.”
The company has given the minister until 10am on Monday to amend immediately the latest version of the regulations or face court action.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said: “It was not the decision of the minister, it was the decision of the government. We want to assure South Africa that we will defend this decision in court. We cannot allow smoking at this time. We are a listening government; we have listened to the advice we have received and the Cabinet made a decision.”
Mthembu said they were aware of the impact the illicit sale of tobacco has on the economy.
Ramaphosa’s backing of Dlamini-Zuma comes at a time when the ANC Women’s League was also up in arms against those singling her out for being the brain behind the ban.
The league’s secretary-general Meokgo Matuba said the attack on Dlamini-Zuma was laced with racism, and done under the guise of freedom of speech.
Matuba said the decision was taken by a collective, and everyone was asked to make an input.
Also adding its voice, the ANC said it was dismayed that there were those who claim that certain ministers were overriding the decisions of the Command Council.
“The ANC further notes with dismay discussions and suggestions by some claiming that individual ministers take unilateral decisions on matters related to the Covid-19 interventions that are meant to save lives and protect South Africans from this pandemic.
“The work of the government is guided by the collective of the Cabinet and the National Corona Virus Command Council led by President Ramaphosa, constituted to specifically address matters related to the pandemic,” the party said.
It added that the Disaster Management Act of 2002 conferred on Dlamini-Zuma the responsibility to co-ordinate the country’s national disaster mitigation efforts.
“The decision by the council to continue with ban on the sale of tobacco during the Level 4-eased lockdown was pronounced to have been carefully considered, following a broad and open consultation process,” its statement read.
Independent political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, said the reason Dlamini-Zuma was singled out was because she made the announcement to the nation, which had already been promised that cigarettes would be sold.
He said the other reason was that Dlamini-Zuma, while as a former health minister, had campaigned for the opposition of public smoking and advertising.
According to Mathekga, the debate had revived the Nasrec battle lines, which saw party members split between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.
* Additional reporting by Marvin Charles