ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte has told the tobacco industry to "back off" after a petition started circulating online this week, calling for the "removal" of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Almost 175 000 people had signed the petition by Saturday. According to the petition, Dlamini-Zuma has, under the National Disaster Act, written "unconstitutional bylaws for her own personal gain and power".
The petition accuses Dlamini-Zuma of "irrationally misusing her power" and "seeking revenge through a pandemic" for "her own past struggles". It also claims she overrode "President Cyril Ramaposa's call" to lift the ban on the sale of tobacco products under Level 4 of the national lockdown.
It is unclear what links, if any, the petition has to the tobacco industry.
Duarte voiced her protest against the "odious attack on Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by what is clearly a well-orchestrated and well-heeled tobacco industry", in a voice message shared with News24.
In the message, she says the industry is trying to "make sure that we are driven into a deeper crisis during a period when we are facing a health crisis that attacks people’s respiratory organs".
She also lashed out at the industry, saying it had, "over years… exploited the health of many people across the world".
'NDZ has done more for SA than tobacco industry'
"Well, as far as I’m concerned, this woman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has done more for this country than the tobacco industry has or will do for any country, anywhere in the world, ever again, other than making people ill," Duarte says.
"So, why don't you back off? Why don't you allow us as country, as a nation, to make a democratic choice and decide who we want as our leadership? And we've done so. We chose her."
In response to the backlash from Duarte, the petition organiser added an update to the online document, stating the petition was not only due to the tobacco ban, citing issues with relief funding distribution and decisions "made on behalf of parents".
"Let me make this clear, this is not just based on the current bylaws written against tobacco and alcohol, but us as a nation stripped of our voices to remain in a struggle orientated mindset," the update states.
On Friday, News24 reported that Dlamini-Zuma had told the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) that the sale of tobacco and alcohol should continue to be banned until the country reaches Level 1 of the lockdown.
News24 was reliably told that Dlamini-Zuma was supported by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi when she told the NCCC this week that she believed it would be too much of a health risk to allow the sale of cigarettes and alcohol on 1 June, when the country is expected to go to Level 3 of the nationwide lockdown.
This prompted a debate in the meeting, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, with no resolution on the matter.