South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the rules for the next level of easing restrictions on the nationwide lockdown last night, and I couldn’t believe my ears when he specified that tobacco products will remain prohibited.
At the beginning of May, I wrote an article where I laughed off suggestions that the ban on alcohol and cigarettes sales, among other lockdown rules, was symbolic of a draconian government. And I stand by what I said. There is nothing Stalin-esque about not being able to drink, smoke or go to the gym. Sure the lockdown rules don’t make sense, but living under lockdown is not a violation of your rights; it’s for the sake of public safety. Now, however, it is clear that the cigarette prohibition has nothing to do with the public health crisis that the entire world is facing.
Are cigarettes bad for your health? Certainly. Would they increase your risk of dying from COVID-19? Maybe. Is a countrywide ban on sales helping South Africans get through this very difficult time? Absolutely not. This is about something far more sinister, I fear. And it’s all about one women – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was the person that stood up after President Ramaphosa announced that he’d be lifting the ban on cigarettes and alcohol when we transitioned from Level 5 to Level 4 of the lockdown, and announced a U-turn on the government’s position. That’s right, a minister (who just happens to be the ex-wife of our former, highly corrupt president, Jacob Zuma) stood up and overturned the decision taken by our president as if she holds the power of the president. Later, Ramaphosa would say that it was a collective decision not to lift the ban, but I find that very hard to believe.
So first, let’s look at why this isn’t a wise decision. The WHO supposedly recommended that smoking can exacerbate the deadlines of COVID-19 and should therefore be limited. And this has pretty much been the substance of the government’s decision all this time. As of yet, I haven’t seen any official statement from the WHO confirming this and even if the WHO did, they aren’t exactly what you would call a highly credible organisation at this point in time, for a plethora of reasons.
Any evidence that smoking exacerbates the fatality rate of COVID-19 or something to that effect would take a lot longer to research than the less-than three months between the first case of coronavirus in Wuhan and when South Africa’s lockdown originally began. So I’m highly skeptical of this argument.
Another issue is that, even if it was bad for one’s health, banning cigarettes is not going to stop smokers, who are highly, highly addicted to their cigarettes, from smoking. It just creates a black market.
We all know a friend that hasn’t stopped smoking at all and is just paying R200 for a box now, rather than R40. And whats worse is that our police force has already been stretched in its efforts to enforce the lockdown, and now we’re bringing an entirely new illegal black market into the mix. With prohibitions come black markets and a rise in crime. Ask America why their prohibition on alcohol from 1920 to 1933 never worked. People still drank, the Mafia grew in size and influence (ever heard of Al Capone?), organised crime flourished and, of course, – here’s the big one – saloon-based political corruption.
This saloon (“boodle”) based corruption is the paying off of local politicians, tax collectors, and criminal justice officials. I run my illegal operation, making exorbitant profits and I hand you a big bag of money in exchange for looking the other way and pretending like you didn’t see anything.
Now I’m not going to make any accusations towards Minister Dlamini-Zuma, because I don’t have any evidence that she’s operating with illegal syndicates of any shape or form. What I’m saying is that somebody is profiting off of this prohibition. And the fact that she thinks she can traverse around as if she is the president of this country makes my blood boil. I never have and never will vote for the ANC, because it is a sham of a political organisation that lost all of its credibility decades ago, but I do at least respect the fact that my fellow South Africans voted them into power and, that’s how the cookie crumbles in democracies.
But it was not Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s name on the ticket in the 2019 national election, it was Cyril Ramaphosa. She was was defeated by Ramaphosa at the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress in 2017, when she made her attempt to run for president. Now she has sour grapes and wants to drag the country down with her and we shouldn’t be standing by and allowing this to happen.
Minister of Health, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Home Affairs, Chair of the African Union Commission, Minister to the Presidency and now Minster of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dlamini-Zuma is a career politician and she plays the political chessboard like a grandmaster.
A massive political calculation that was made when President Ramaphosa won the election last year was the compromise over the appointment of the Minister of Police, with the position being awarded to Dlamini-Zuma’s lackey, Bheki Cele. This is a man who was literally found guilty of improper conduct and maladministration when the police authorised a R500-million lease for the new SAPS headquarters in Pretoria.
Now as the Minister of Police, Cele is doing Dlamini-Zuma’s work and it’s carrying out right in front of our eyes. She has been in this game for a long time and will be here for a lot longer than most of us would like. The ANC is, after all, the ruling party and it is in all of our interests not to allow it divide into separate factions with competing interests, because if we do, we will be caught in the middle of it.
Personally, I couldn’t care less about smoking, but today it’s cigarettes, tomorrow it will be something else and the road towards the authoritarianism is a very slippery slope.