Anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee this week got a gag order application against him struck off the urgent court roll.
The interdict application was launched by the Gold Leaf Tobacco Company (GLTC), which has been the main target of the #TakeBackTheTax campaign launched by rival companies and for which Abramjee is a spokesman.
The campaign is based on research commissioned from international market research firm Ipsos by the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa).
It found that “illicit” cigarettes, including those of GLTC, were making significant inroads into the local market without paying the massive “sin” taxes owed to the South African Revenue Service.
GLTC sells the RG, Savannah, Sahawi, Chicago, Sharp and Voyager cigarette brands.
The campaign is an attempt to stoke government and consumer action against GLTC and other companies.
Oddly, Tisa itself has not been sued.
Abramjee called the failed interdict application a “crude and patently untenable attempt” to silence him as an individual rather than fight a more powerful foe in court.
GLTC is also separately suing Abramjee for R50 million for reputational damage.
In January, Ipsos also received a R50 million damages claim from GLTC for releasing the research in the first place.
Tisa represents GLTC’s better-known rivals, including British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan International Tobacco.
Tisa told City Press this week that it could not explain why it wasn’t getting sued by GLTC instead of Abramjee, who is merely a spokesperson for the campaign.
“The expectation is that Tisa be sued,” said the lobby group’s spokesperson Francois van der Merwe. “It is uncertain if Tisa will be sued in due course as well.”
Both Tisa and Abramjee call GLTC’s tactic an attempt to put pressure on the weakest party by criticising them rather than squaring up against big tobacco.
In replying papers this week, Abramjee calls the R50 million damage claim “exorbitant and outrageous”, and says it is a clear attempt to intimidate him, a relatively well-known critic and activist, into silence.
The tactic was spectacularly pioneered in South Africa by the Guptas after one of the very first investigative stories about their capture of the state was published, said Abramjee.
In 2013, the Mail & Guardian reported that SAA had given the infamous family a multibillion-rand deal. Rajesh Gupta launched a R500 million damage claim against the newspaper, but it didn’t go ahead.
Abramjee also argued that it was pointless to interdict him because the statements GLTC wanted him to stop making had also been made by almost all newspapers in the country, as well as Tisa itself.
GLTC has criticised the campaign against it and says it is an attempt by dominant tobacco firms to exclude it from the market.
Since it was founded in 2001, GLTC has managed to gain a market share of up to 15% in South Africa.
In a press release the rival industry group GLTC belongs to, the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association, accused Tisa of using biased research to sway authorities against loca manufacturers to the benefit of “foreign interests”.
“Tisa’s approach shows a blatant and/or intentional misunderstanding of the informal trade, where most of our member brands are sold, and its sole purpose is to direct law enforcement agencies and resources towards our members and their employees, and to subject them to undue harassment,” Fita said