Covid-19 | Tobacco sale U-turn was collective decision - Ramaphosa defends Dlamini-Zuma

2020-05-04 12:12

The office of President Cyril Ramaphosa has come out in defence of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma following days of attacks levelled against her over a U-turn on the ban on cigarettes sales.

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Dlamini-Zuma has faced widespread criticism from citizens, politicians and interest groups after she announced that cigarettes and tobacco products would not be sold from 1 May, when the country moved to Level 4 on the Covid-19 lockdown risk scale.

The country has been under lockdown since 26 March in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

As of Sunday, 131 South Africans have died from the Covid-19 disease, while 6 783 positive cases have been recorded.

On 23 April, in announcing the downgrading of the lockdown from Level 5, Ramaphosa said the sale of cigarettes would be allowed under Level 4.

British American Tobacco and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association had both been lobbying government to unban the sale of cigarettes and associated products before Ramaphosa's announcement.

Both organisations have since threatened government with legal action.

But less than a week later, Dlamini-Zuma announced government's U-turn on the matter, sparking criticism and questioning of the National Coronavirus Command Council's decision-making and actions.

READ | What you can and cannot do during Level 4 of the lockdown

Dlamini-Zuma has largely borne the brunt of the criticism for this decision, with some accusing her of undermining the president and acting on her own against the tobacco industry.

But Ramaphosa has come out in defence of his minister, writing in his weekly newsletter that the council took a "collective decision" on the matter.

"After careful consideration and discussion, the NCCC reconsidered its position on tobacco. As a result, the regulations ratified by Cabinet and announced by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on 29 April extended the prohibition," wrote the president.

"This was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the minister were done on behalf of, and mandated by, the collective I lead."

Speaking to News24, Ramaphosa's spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said he considers "the attacks on Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as baseless, unfounded and frankly very malicious".

"When the president announced that the ban on the sale of tobacco would be lifted it was a view of the National Command Council at that point in time based on information that they had," said Diko.

She added the president also announced there would be public consultations ahead of the regulations being adopted and gazetted.

Diko said the council changed its stance after public consultation and engaging with numerous stakeholders.

While the president's spokesperson did not indicate whether the decision to continue with the ban on cigarettes would be changed, she said government was facing numerous threats of litigation.

Last week, News24 reported that two high-profile advocates had written a letter to the president regarding the decision.

READ | Ramaphosa threatened with possible litigation over constitutionality of the NCC

Ramaphosa is set to give clarity over the role of the command council on Monday. This will include an explanation of some of the decisions it has taken, including the continued ban on the sale of cigarettes.

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Read more on:    cyril ramapahosa  |  nkosazana ­dlamini zuma  |  coronavirus
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