The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association on Wednesday tendered an apology to the South African Revenue Service and any of its employees who may have been harmed by FITA's members, saying the association was building a "new relationship" with the tax agency.
Sinen Mnguni, FITA's chairperson, told Fin24 that this apology would include one to former SARS employee Johann van Loggerenberg.
In a new book called Tobacco Wars, Van Loggerenberg delves into rivalries in the SA tobacco industry. Van Loggerenberg resigned as SARS group executive in February 2015.
"In the past, FITA's relationship with SARS was strained, and that strained attitude from our members included how we viewed anyone - including Van Loggerenberg - who tried to investigate and police the tobacco industry. But since I have taken over a few years ago, we have built up a co-operative relationship," says Mnguni.
"In essence we are saying we are no longer that organisation. We used to see SARS as the bad guys. Now we have been working hand-in-hand with SARS for the last few years."
According to Mnguni, after the publication of Van Loggerenberg's latest book, FITA began receiving getting many enquiries.
"What is coming out now (in the book) is nothing new. We are saying these kinds of allegations keep resurfacing, but nothing is being done about it. High-level people seem to be implicated. The book deals with systemic rot in all law enforcement agencies," he told Fin24.
In his view, FITA had been made a target by people wanting to play the organisation's members off against each other.
"The tobacco war is for market share and the bigger players have used their influence to target our members. We, on the other hand, never had relationships with government. I am now trying to engage with the relevant departments," says Mnguni.
"We deny that we are part of illicit tobacco trade. We are a legitimate association with tax-paying members who create jobs."
Mnguni says FITA members are being painted in a bad light so law enforcement can keep on targeting them.
"So, our apology stems from us noting the acrimony that existed in the past and the war got ugly. We thought they (SARS) were the bad guys as they were being played off against us. So, we indirectly contributed to what happened at SARS, though we were not a big factor," said Mnguni.
"We are saying that, if we were involved, we apologise, but our organisation has gone through renewal and created new relationships with SARS."
FITA and TISA
There are two main industry bodies in the South African tobacco industry. TISA represents international players British American Tobacco (BAT), Phillip Morris International, Limpopo Tobacco Processors, and others. FITA, meanwhile, represents manufacturers Carnilinx, Gold Leaf Tobacco and Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing, among others.