Holy smoke! R140 for a packet of cigarettes in Soweto

Cigarettes are traded despite the Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Legal traders have lost significant income because of the restrictions.
Cigarettes are traded despite the Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Legal traders have lost significant income because of the restrictions.
Mosa Damane, GroundUp

"I think the government is violating the rights of smokers by banning cigarettes. It is my money and health and I have a right to decide when to quit," says Veli Hlongwane from Maliwa street, Mzimhlophe, in Soweto, GroundUp reports.

"I do adhere to the rules of [the] Covid-19 lockdown … If a friend asks for a smoke, I give because it is their risk, not mine, but I don't ask for a skyf (puff) anymore," he says.

"The price of a Savannah fag jumped from R1.50 to R4.00 and the cheapest RG fag jumped from 50 cents to R3.50 … I smoke three Savannah fags per day, which is R12 a day. The government should reconsider the ban [on] cigarettes," says Hlongwane.

Sandile Mtshali from Meadowlands Zone 11 is a young spaza shop owner who has a liquor licence. He says he has lost R25 000 in profits due to the ban on cigarettes and alcohol, and he has not received any financial assistance from the government.

"I continued trading until I was arrested by police for selling fags and beer during the lockdown. I've learned my lesson and I won't be on the wrong side of the law again," says Mtshali.

READ | Smoke and mirrors: 4 minutes – that's how long it took to find banned cigarettes during lockdown

Golan Mohammed, an immigrant from Bangladesh who rents a shop in Meadowlands, said he has lost about R20 000 in profits due to the cigarette ban.

"The government should give us the money they promised to us, because we are struggling and trading times have also been shortened."

"Go big or go home is the new slogan for the booming business of selling cigarettes in the townships," says Sam Sitoe, wearing a home-made mask and selling fruit and vegetables in Meadowlands. "Better a friend with a fag than a friend with a Lamborghini."

Sibusiso (surname withheld) has become a trusted dealer of illicit cigarettes in Mzimhlophe, where he has on display packs of Caesar Gold, Life Virginia King Size, RG blue and imported tobacco.

"This is my way of surviving and making clean money without getting into trouble with the police, but the new laws of banning cigarettes are taking away my bread. At night I sell RG loose for R5 and during the day the normal price is R3.50. A pack of 20 is R50 which is the cheapest RG fongkong (fake) cigarettes. Courtleigh is the most expensive pack which is around R140 in some places and a loose cigarette is R7 each," says Sibusiso.

"All fake cigarettes are very expensive now. Forum, Peter Gold, Malimbo, F1, Rainbow Gold and Remington are selling for R50 where I stock cigarettes next to Bara hospital (Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital). I need to get more from my supplier because people are buying in bulk," he says.

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