Smoking ban: eNCA anchors apologise for 'unfortunate' comments about Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa


News anchors Xoli Mngambi and Jane Dutton issued an apology on Tuesday for comments made during an eNCA news broadcast that implied that Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had undermined President Cyril Ramaphosa's authority when banning the sale of cigarettes during Level 4 of the national Covid-19 lockdown.

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On Monday morning, Mngambi and Dutton said in a "very public show of force" Dlamini-Zuma showed "who's controlling South Africa's narrative right now - not the president, but... Dlamini-Zuma".

"How? She used her power and considerable influence to ensure the ban on cigarettes would continue," Dutton said at the beginning of the 07:00 broadcast.

"Why did she do that?" Mngambi continued. "It is because the president is particularly popular right now or is it a reminder that the party politics at Luthuli House - the rivalry there - is still very much at play?"

"While Cyril Ramaphosa has been publicly emasculated, we the public have been duped," Dutton adds.

Mngambi then says South Africa is becoming a "police state under the control of renegade ministers and the security forces".

"Our president now needs to take back... power. Is he up to it?" Dutton then asks how Ramaphosa would be able to overcome the economic challenges and lead the country if he can't "deal with something like this".

Collective decision

Last Thursday, Ramaphosa announced the country would exit the Covid-19 lockdown in a phased manner, saying cigarettes, which were banned during Level 5, would be allowed to be sold during Level 4, which came into effect on Friday, News24 reported.

However, when Dlamini-Zuma announced the regulations for Level 4 on Wednesday, smokers' hopes that they would soon light up a legally obtained cigarette went up in flames.

In an about-turn, she said the sale of tobacco products were still banned under Level 4 regulations.

This had led to speculation that Ramaphosa may have been undermined by his political opponents in the ANC.

However, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu tweeted on Friday: "The NCC [National Command Council] changed its own view on the selling of tobacco on Level 4 of the lockdown, which was pronounced by the president. The president fully agreed and endorsed the non-sale of tobacco as an outcome of the consultation process.

"Any suggestions that the president was undermined by members of his cabinet are tantamount to falsehoods and misleading of the public. It's clear that some lobbyists will use and do anything to get their way."

Ramaphosa has come out in defence of Dlamini-Zuma following days of attacks levelled against her over the U-turn on the ban on cigarettes sales.

In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa wrote that the NCC took a "collective decision" on the matter.

"After careful consideration and discussion, the NCC 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."

Call for boycott

The comments made by Mngambi and Dutton drew widespread criticism.

The ANC National Youth Task Team (ANC NYTT) called for a boycott of the station, saying that eNCA was a "frontier for the advancement of certain societal narratives and politics". It also said it would lay a complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa.

"We are totally in support of media freedom but remain opposed to gutter journalism as purported this morning by the two broadcasters," the ANC NYTT said.

On Tuesday morning, Mngambi and Dutton apologised for their comments.

"Yesterday [Monday] we made a rather unfortunate judgement on the president and... Dlamini-Zuma. Singling her out on the decision as if it were her own, was unfair and unwarranted, especially after... Ramaphosa provided clarity on the matter," Dutton said.

Mngambi continued: "We, as news anchors, are allowed to make commentary on any matter of national importance and this is done purely to encourage debate. It's not done out of malice or to personalise attacks on a particular leader."

Dutton then adds: "The same also applied to us; as citizens of this country we are entitled to opinions as individuals,""[and] that right is protected and guaranteed under the Constitution. For this, though, we apologise unreservedly."

Before proceeding to the day's headlines, Mngambi says: "We have earned your trust and we're not about to disappoint you now. At a time when the president and his team are leading us through difficult times in our country, again, we apologise unreservedly to you, Mr President; you, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma; and indeed, the nation."

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