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Tobacco industry guns for Ramaphosa in court

Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency(ANA)

Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 26, 2020


Johannesburg - Aggrieved members of the Fair Trade Tobacco Association (Fita) have vowed to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest decision to continue to ban the sale of cigarettes.

Ramaphosa announced his decision on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday when he is to provide Fita with minutes of the National Command Council on Covid-19 about its sudden decision to overturn the lifting of the ban on cigarettes earlier this month.

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On May 12, Fita obtained a court order instructing Ramaphosa to provide it with details of the initial decision ahead of both parties squaring off in the High Court in Pretoria, in which Fita wants the court to declare the ban illegal and unlawful.

On Monday, Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said his association was very disappointed by the president’s decision.

“There was no engagement with our sector, which contributes billions to the economy of the country. After the initial announcement of the lockdown draft regulation which recommended the lifting of the ban, the government invited people to comment on the regulation.

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“A total of 2000 comments were received and they decided to overturn the decision. But they did not bother to consult us before making the recent decision,” Mnguni said.

He said that they were going ahead with their court challenge and that the government had until Tuesday to provide them with the minutes of the meeting which set aside the decision to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes.

“Our application was supposed to be heard on June 2 before Judge Basson. We have now received a new directive that the matter will be heard before a full Bench of the high court,” Mnguni said.

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Meanwhile, liquor traders are waiting for Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel to provide them with guidelines on the off-sale of trading of alcoholic beverages before opening their doors on June 1. However, the liquor brand owners have warned that compressed operating hours could lead to overcrowding at outlets.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa said alcohol could be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.

Speculation is rife that the government wants liquor traders to sell their goods under strict regulations from Monday until Thursday. According to insiders, no sales will be allowed over the weekend. Insiders say the government is of the view that the most violent crimes are committed over the weekend while perpetrators are under the influence.

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Kurt Moore, the chief executive of the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (Salba), said the industry welcomed the move that would result in the “opening up of the economy”.

However, he said that compressed operating hours could lead to overcrowding at outlets when consumers were allowed to purchase alcohol after the nine-week ban.

“Industry associations, Salba, the Beer Association of South Africa and Vinpro have worked tirelessly with the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition and presented several proposals. These included safety protocols for the off-consumption and trading of alcohol. We look forward to ironing out the details.”

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Vinpro chief executive Rico Basson said players in the alcohol industry had been operating for more than eight weeks with zero income revenue but had remained committed to ensuring the industry got back on its feet.

Basson said an estimated 117600 jobs had been lost throughout the industry, 13% of the craft beer sector was shutting up shop and the wine industry was in severe distress.

Political Bureau

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