Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini–Zuma has denied having a personal relationship with controversial businessman Adriano Mazzotti.
This after a question was posed to her by the Democratic Alliance’s Cathlene Labuschagne during the first question and answer session of Tuesday’s National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Covid-19 plenary briefing from Dlamini-Zuma and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
“There is currently no proof that the prohibition of cigarettes and tobacco sales decreases the risk of Covid-19. More specifically, there [are] no negative consequences of smoking that has been stooped by the ban unless the minister can point it out. Smoking continues but the industry has been taken underground. The only logical conclusion is that this is the sole aim of the cabinet and specifically the minister with regards to this ban,” said Labuschagne.
“The minister is known to have visited Greece and the United Kingdom with Mr Mazzotti, who now denies that they are friends. Where will the two unfriendly travel partners be going with your profits once the lockdown is completely lifted, minister?” asked Labuschagne.
Dlamini-Zuma said: “I must put it on record that I am not Mazzotti’s friend. If anyone is doing crime in South Africa, they must be arrested. Whatever crime…”
Shortly after the ban on cigarette and tobacco sales was announced, images and articles from 2017 started circulating on social media, showing the minister pictured next to the “self-confessed tobacco smuggler”.
According to News24, Mazzotti has also denied any ties to Dlamini Zuma.
“The allegation that I have some connection with Minister [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma and may have had an influence on the decision made by government in relation to the ban of tobacco products during the lockdown for self-gain, is outrageous,” Mazzotti said in a statement released at the beginning of this month.
“I have stated on record on numerous occasions that there is no relationship between myself and Minister Dlamini-Zuma and I did not fund her presidential campaign, as has been maliciously alleged.”
During Tuesday’s plenary briefing, the minister then indicated that she would not speak further about the tobacco ban because the matter was before the courts. She, however, repeated some of the World Health Organisation’s findings on the benefits of quitting smoking as well as how this eased the burden on the public health system should a known smoker contract the coronavirus.
The minister added that her department’s legal representation would elaborate further on the ban in court.
This was in reference to the matter brought before by the courts by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), of which Mazzotti’s company is a part, against the minister’s regulations on cigarette sales. Mazzotti is listed as a founding member of Fita.
The association took Dlamini-Zuma and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to the High Court in Pretoria after the government’s decision not to lift the ban on sale of cigarettes when the lockdown was lifted to Level 4.
The court ruled that the government must hand over records of its decision and reasons, if any, for the promulgation of its current resolution 27 of Level 4, which banned the sale of tobacco and liquor.
Dlamini-Zuma vowed to defend the government’s decision and in an answering affidavit opposing the Fita application she accused the association of failing to state why it should obtain the details of the NCCC decision.
Fita chair Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said the association was expecting the government to comply with the high court deadline of Tuesday, after which it would supplement its court papers and bring the matter back to court soon.
“We have further been granted a special allocation by the acting Deputy Judge President of the High Court in Pretoria in this regard and will advise once the date for our matter to be heard is confirmed by the appointed judge,” Mnguni said.
He was reacting to a news report saying that Dlamini-Zuma had asked during the NCCC meeting for the ban on the sale of tobacco and alcohol to continue until Level 1 of the lockdown.
The minister, who is co-chair of the command council, was reportedly supported by Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
Dlamini-Zuma believed cigarettes and alcohol pose a high health risk and that allowing their sale on 1 June, when Level 3 was due to take effect, would not be a good idea.
According to News24, there was allegedly no resolution initially after NCCC members debated it.
Mnguni said Fita understood that, to date, no definitive decision had been taken by the NCCC on the prohibition of the sale of cigarettes, although many members had reportedly supported lifting the ban.
Mnguni said he understood the issue of cigarette sales during Level 3 and beyond was still before the NCCC for debate.
Dlamini-Zuma’s spokesperson, Mlungisi Mtshali, declined to comment, saying he knew nothing about such a purported debate.
“What I know [is that] at Level 4, the sale of cigarettes and alcohol are not allowed and Level 3 regulations are not out yet,” Mtshali said.
(Background reporting by Eric Naki)
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