President Cyril Ramaphosa may have announced some relief for South Africans last night, but Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma can look forward to a protracted war, and even a public bashing by the tobacco industry, as the ban on the sale of cigarettes is to be kept.
The restriction on the sale of alcohol will be partially lifted.
Political scientist at the University of South Africa Professor Dirk Kotze, whose view was shared by fellow political commentator Dr Somadoda Fikeni, said the decision to continue the ban on cigarette sales was a personal fight for Dlamini-Zuma against smoking and the tobacco sector, emanating from her tenure as minister of health.
She was the force behind the ban on smoking in public places and cigarette advertising in the late ’90s.
“The fight against smoking or cigarettes has become a badge of honour for Dlamini-Zuma,” said Kotze. “At the same time, President Ramaphosa does not want to alienate her by reversing the ban.
“This shows she is wielding a strong influence in the National Coronavirus Command Council.”
Kotze said it would be ridiculous to continue the ban until Level 1, as Dlamini-Zuma is striving for.
In terms of the Level 3 Alert, all businesses and other entities may open, but under strict health protocols and observation of social distancing. But employees able to work from home should do so.
Almost all other restrictions currently under Level 4 are to remain, including the restriction on public gatherings.
Funerals may be attended by no more than 50 people.
“There will be no justification whatsoever to keep the ban until the end,” Kotze said. “It doesn’t make sense, whether you are a smoker or not.
“Smoking does not involve a large congregation of people, unlike religious gatherings, where social distancing would be difficult observe.”
Government is facing a court challenge from the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), which wants the ban reversed.
The body is going ahead with its court application against the minister.
The High Court in Pretoria recently ruled that government must hand over records of its decision and reasons, if any, for the promulgation of Resolution 27 of Level 4, which banned the sale of the tobacco and liquor.
Dlamini-Zuma is to defend the decision.
Kotze said there was no doubt Ramaphosa was under pressure from the business sector and the Democratic Alliance to open the economy. But opening the economy was contrary to scientific models, which suggested the worst is yet to come.
“Scaling down does not sound logical. In the interest of benevolence, they have to listen to the public. The government can take decisions almost in isolation without seeking public views, but in a democratic society they must listen to the people.”
According to the draft regulations, there will be a partial lifting of alcohol sales, where outlets will be allowed by sell from Monday to Thursday, but not on weekends.
Nobody will be allowed to consume liquor at point of sale and the ban of alcohol sales at taverns, restaurants and clubs will continue. Kotze said this was a “classic compromise because some members of the Cabinet wanted both alcohol and cigarette sales to remain banned”.
He said this was a loss for Police Minister Bheki Cele, who had vociferously campaigned against alcohol sales during the lockdown, almost forgetting other crimes exist.
Fikeni said the relaxed regulations were much better, but “you are almost certain that we have the footprint of Dlamini-Zuma … that politics will try to assign certain policy positions to certain politicians will go on steroids.”
Another analyst, Ongama Mtimka from Nelson Mandela University, said it was not a bad idea for the government to respect the demand by various sectors of society as long as that did not compromise the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
“We will reach a stage where the zero-sum approach is no longer tenable.
There was a need for compromise but we must still proceed with caution,” he said.
Government needed to exercise a greater degree of autonomy in its policy formulation to strike a balance between meeting the economic needs the country and fighting the spread of the virus.
“Where the government policy approach relies too much on certain economic interests, that leads to state capture,” Mtimka said. “We need a government that will be confident and assertive and at the same time, be able to listen to the people.”