Ramaphosa Defends Cigarette Ban Ahead of Looming Court Battle
May 04, 2020
The president has personally responded to the outcry over the prohibition of tobacco and the power dynamic of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
Amid a wave of controversy, President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended government’s decision to prohibit the sale of tobacco products during Level 4 lockdown.
As millions of South Africans in the agricultural, mining and financial sectors head back to work following the relaxation of lockdown regulations, the argument regarding the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco serves as a point of contention in the broader debate surrounding government control.
This is especially true in light of government’s controversial turnaround, which formed the foundation of Ramaphosa’s customary Monday morning address. Although the president initially noted that the sale of tobacco products would be permitted during Level 4 lockdown, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who leads the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), repealed Ramaphosa’s earlier assertions.
RAMAPHOSA SUPPORTS TURNAROUND ON TOBACCO REGULATIONS
This sudden reversal split public opinion and gave rise to a host of theories purporting an internal political power struggle which sought to undermine Ramaphosa’s executive powers. In addition, government’s U-turn has been met with legal challenges instituted by British American Tobacco SA (BATSA) and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA).
Ramaphosa has, however, denied being ‘overruled’ by ministers. In addition, the president noted that he supported the decision taken by Dlamini-Zuma and the NCCC. On Monday morning, the president set out to dispel rumours of a split political agenda, saying:
“After careful consideration and discussion, the NCCC 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.
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.”
The president added that the government’s prohibition of alcohol, which has resulted in thousands of arrests and the widespread looting of liquor outlets, was validated by other countries now implementing similar restrictions. Ramaphosa pointed to Mexico, Hong Kong and Greenland as examples.
LOCKDOWN LAWS: GOVERNMENT FACES A HOST OF LEGAL CHALLENGES
Still, while government has eased certain restrictions during Level 4 lockdown, many South Africans, including the official opposition party, feel that regulations devised by the NCCC under the Disaster Management Act are still a suffocating force on the country’s socioeconomic prospects.
In light of these concerns, the NCCC faces several legal challenges over its Constitutional mandate and the power dynamic concerning all arms of government in the enforcement of lockdown regulations. Advocates Vuyani Ngalwana SC, Nazeer Cassim SC and Erin Richards have raised a host of Constitutional questions in a legal letter addressed to Ramaphosa. Ngalwana asked:
“Where in the Constitution, or elsewhere, does the president source the power to delegate executive functions to the NCC, comprising only some but not all the 28 ministers?”
Ramaphosa addressed the issue of constitutionality in his Monday address, pointing specifically to restrictions limiting movement, noting:
“In the 1995 judgment of the Constitutional Court that outlawed capital punishment, Justice Arthur Chaskalson wrote: ‘The rights to life and dignity are the most important of all human rights and the source of all other personal rights. By committing ourselves to a society founded on the recognition of human rights we are required to value these two rights above all others.’
The regulations we have put in place are founded on that commitment to life and dignity, and which justify – in these extreme circumstances – temporary restrictions on other rights, like freedom of movement and association.”
BATSA has vowed to challenge government in court should the ban on tobacco products not be review by Monday afternoon.