In a statement on Friday evening, the ANC came out in defence of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has been under heavy fire from many quarters over the ban on tobacco sales.
The ruling party’s spokesperson, Pule Mabe, said that among those expressing critical opinions of the minister’s decisions were racists and sexists, whose behaviour was “appalling”.
The party’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, had days earlier already “bewailed” the ongoing attacks on the minister, while his deputy, Jessie Duarte, had expressed similar concerns, asking people to “back off”. Government has in the past attempted to explain that Dlamini-Zuma does not take unilateral decisions, but is backed by the “collective”.
Despite this, Mabe said the ongoing tobacco ban had seen an even bigger flare-up of “the worst racist, sexist and misogynist comments on social media” against Dlamini-Zuma.
One person, Danie Herselman, had allegedly even likened the minister to a “baboon”.
Mabe called on the Human Rights Commission and the police to investigate this and similar cases and take action. He asked the public at large to resist “vicious personal attacks” and bring legal charges against people engaging in such alleged hate speech.
The party said the minister was merely carrying out her duties “diligently” and Mabe said they supported government in its efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The Democratic Alliance had on Friday called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire Dlamini-Zuma for allegedly exaggerating how much public support there has been for the tobacco ban, among other reasons.
“The fact that Minister Dlamini-Zuma took the decision to make up a number of alleged supporting submissions and then lie to the people of South Africa in her briefing should be grounds for immediate suspension from her position.
“If the president wants to salvage some credibility for government’s response to this crisis, he cannot allow her to evade accountability on this,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen said that last month Dlamini-Zuma claimed government’s decision to prohibit the sale of tobacco products was partly based on “more than 2,000” public submissions supporting such a ban.
“These alleged submissions formed part of 70,000 public submissions made to government at the time. In this briefing, the minister said: ‘Even in the public comments, there was quite a lot of opposition. More than 2,000 people opposed it.’
“She went on to say that government took that into consideration, debated the matter, looked at it, and decided that we must continue as we are when it comes to cigarettes, tobacco and related products, and that we should not open up the sale of these products.
“But her responding papers to a court challenge by the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) paints an entirely different picture,” he said.
The DA leader said the 4,000-page response included all the public submissions she could find to support her actions.
“Plus, it seems, many that had nothing to do with cigarettes or tobacco at all. And the actual opposition to cigarette sales turns out to be a mere fraction of what she had claimed.
“According to Fita, the applicants in the case, there weren’t more than 2,000 submissions attached as evidence. Instead, there were only 1,535 submissions and, of these, 47.2% had nothing to do with cigarettes or smoking, 23.3% were in favour of smoking and only 29.6% supported the ban, which amounts to just 454 submissions,” he added.
Steenhuisen went on to claim that the minister was “clearly” lying to South Africans in order to further her own alleged pre-determined agenda.