Cigarette trader Adriano Mazzotti says his involvement in an urgent court challenge to the government's cigarette ban makes it "obvious" that claims he is involved in the illicit trade of tobacco are "blatantly untrue".
"The allegation that I have some connection with Minister [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma and may have had an influence on the decision made by government in relation to the ban of tobacco products during the lockdown for self-gain, is outrageous," Mazzotti said in a statement released on Monday night.
"I have stated on record on numerous occasions that there is no relationship between myself and Minister Dlamini-Zuma and I did not fund her presidential campaign as has been maliciously alleged."
According to author Jacques Pauw, Mazzotti admitted in a signed May 2014 affidavit that he and his company, Carnilinx, were complicit in fraud, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.
Pauw also claimed Mazzotti had given Dlamini-Zuma a variety of electioneering paraphernalia.
But, in his statement, Mazzotti – a self-admitted benefactor of both the EFF and the ANC – says he has suffered ongoing "politically motivated" harassment as "I continue to be untruthfully linked to Minister Dlamini-Zuma".
"The ongoing harassment and the untruthful allegations that are being continuously published about me continues unabated. During this very trying time in our country and globally, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, when there should be focus on flattening the curve and ensuring the health and safety of our nation, the media and certain individuals have taken this opportunity as a platform to defame me," Mazzotti says.
On Monday, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) – which counts Mazzotti as a founder member – launched a legal challenge to South Africa's ban on the manufacture, export and sale of cigarettes.
FITA launched the legal action after Dlamini-Zuma's announcement that the government's National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) had decided not to lift the cigarette ban, after President Cyril Ramaphosa had earlier stated that the ban would be lifted on 30 April.
Ramaphosa on Monday rubbished any suggestion that he had been undermined by Dlamini-Zuma's announcement and said that the NCCC had made a "collective decision" to continue the tobacco ban.
In his statement, Mazzotti says that, while he appreciates the severe impact of Covid-19 on the country, "there is no evidence that by banning the sale of tobacco products it will help combat Covid-19".
"The unbanning is supported by hundreds of thousands of South Africans who have signed a petition. There are approximately 11 million people who smoke in SA. There has been a clear failure to balance the interests of citizens who are entitled to purchase cigarettes with measures that are to be taken to combat the pandemic."
Mazzotti also insists that his cigarette manufacturing company, Carnilinx, "has been fully compliant with the lockdown regulations and has adhered thereto".
"Carnilinx has not been operating since the lockdown was enforced on all South Africans and all non-essential businesses, and remains compliant".
In papers filed at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, FITA chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni says his organisation also wants Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma to "account to it, and all South Africans by providing the requisite information and records underpinning the decisions to prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco”.
Speaking to News24, Mnguni said FITA was intent on "establishing the rationale behind the cigarette ban", and the NCCC's wavering perspective on it, "which left us very confused".