Marchers, who were quickly dispersed by police due to the ban on public gatherings, complained about their rights being infringed upon, saying government has no right to tell them what they can put in their bodies.
A planned march against the ban of tobacco products went up in smoke on Tuesday morning, after it was nipped in the bud by police before even starting.
Smokers were planning to march on to the Union Buildings lawns in Pretoria to demand that the ban on tobacco products be lifted.
But a heavy police contingent had been waiting outside the lawns in anticipation to halt the march. According to the public order policing officers, gatherings remain prohibited under level 3 lockdown regulations.
“Gatherings are prohibited except for funerals and to go to work,” an officer was heard telling some of the protesters.
The agitated smokers claimed government was violating their constitutional right to protest.
One of the protesters, Brendan Marshall, reluctantly left the march after police threatened arrest.
“I think it is my right to be here and I have the right to speak up and [police] are violating my human rights. I will have to leave because I don’t want a criminal record to my name and I am young and still have a future,” he said.
Wouter Mathlener was frustrated that government had a say in what citizens can put in their bodies. Speaking to The Citizen while being chased to his car by a police officer, he said reasons given by government to ban the sale of tobacco products were insufficient.
“I believe the government is infringing on our personal liberty and sovereignty of individuals. I don’t think it’s about cigarettes anymore. I don’t think anyone has the right to tell me what I can and cannot put in my body. I also don’t think the reasons provided by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her cronies are reasonable, sufficient and rational. They haven’t considered the effect of this on the mental health of smokers,” he said.
The nationwide protest was expected to have similar marches across the country, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Rustenburg, Witbank, Durban and Mossel Bay.
According to their Facebook page, Protest Against The Tobacco Ban, smokers demand that: “Our rights to dignity and choice be respected. If our demand is not met, we will continue to protest against this ban. This movement will grow, we will become more creative.”
Meanwhile, British American Tobacco South Africa, the country’s largest cigarette manufacturer, as well as Japan Tobacco International SA, and eight others have legally challenged the ban on tobacco products, with the matter expected to be heard before Cape Town High Court on 22 June.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) said their matter will be heard before a full bench at the North Gauteng High Court on 9 and 10 June.
Afrikaner-rights organisation AfriForum last month wrote to the ministry of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, also threatening court action should the tobacco ban not be lifted.
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