Nothing can spark a political drama in South Africa quite like an ill-executed ban on alcohol and cigarettes. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has found herself at the centre of controversy once more, after the COGTA Minister allegedly told the NCC that booze and ciggies should stay banned ‘until Level 1 of lockdown’.
If these plans came to fruition, it would be a massive slap in the face for the drinkers and smokers of South Africa. Citizens have been promised that their two guilty pleasures will be back on supermarket shelves by Level 3, yet discussions within the Cabinet seem to indicate that Dlamini-Zuma is pushing for even stricter measures.
COULD ALCOHOL AND CIGARETTES BE BANNED UNTIL LEVEL 1?
Bheki Cele, another open advocate of prohibition, steered clear of commitment when probed about the potential for another hugely unpopular decision. He did explain, though, that there has been no commitment to an extended ban. But, rather, it was suggested during a virtual meeting of Parliament’s top brass.
“It has been discussed time and again, and I’m sure the announcement will be made. But I don’t make announcements on those matters; President Ramaphosa or the minister responsible for the regulations [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma] will. Just wait.”
“Ours, as the SA Police, is to enforce what would have been decided upon [about] cigarettes and alcohol. I might suspect what direction that decision might take, but it is not for me to make those announcements.”
@SAPoliceService Minister Bheki Cele On alcohol, I’m a member of the National Command Council (NCC) and not the NCC. Just wait for the decision to be made and announced. Ours as police is to enforce what has been decided upon. #COVID19SA#day57oflockdown
— @SAgovnews (@SAgovnews) May 22, 2020
On Friday afternoon, however, the heat was being turned up against Dlamini-Zuma. Even if her desire to push the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to Level 1 is just her personal opinion, it still remains an unsettling development for some. The minister has played herself into a very powerful position recently.
That’s something the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) know all too well. They are currently dueling with Dlamini-Zuma and the government in court, blasting their decision to reverse the sales of cigarettes at Level 4 as “unconstitutional”. The group has warned the NCC leader that time is running out to explain herself, and she’ll need to provide some concrete reasoning for the smoking ban soon:
“Our understanding is that the issue is now before the National Command Council where it is being debated, however to date no definitive decision in as far as the sale or prohibition of the sale of cigarettes, with many on the NCCC in support of the lifting of the ban on the sale of cigarettes.”
“As per the court order of 12 May 2020, Dlamini-Zuma has a deadline of Tuesday 26 May to hand over to us the record of decision and the reasons, if any, for the promulgation of the current regulation 27 of the Level 4 regulations, after which time we will immediately supplement our court papers and have the matter heard.”
Predictably, the loudest noises of dissent are coming from across the political divide. The DA have already sunk their teeth into the whole “ban booze and cigarettes until Level 1” debate, and they’re not letting up in their pursuit of the president. Dean Macpherson echoed sentiments we heard earlier, saying that Dlamini-Zuma’s all-too-public views on these coveted items are creating an ‘internal political crisis’ for the ANC:
“It’s becoming clear that SA has a political crisis within Government. Cyril Ramaphosa has been reduced to a spectator while his detractors run rings around him. Throw into the mix a public health and an economic crisis, and South Africa really needs to start asking questions about where we are headed.”
We’ve heard the dissent from business, and the rage from our political opposition. So what about the people of South Africa? Sure, Dlamini-Zuma has her supporters on social media, but they’ll do well to stop critics from voicing their frustrations – and one particular petition is now spreading like wildfire.
A campaign to remove Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from office has been launched this week. Since her alleged Level 1 plans were reported by various media outlets, the petition racked up 40 000 signatures in just a few hours – it’s likely that the number of backers will breach the six-figure mark on Friday.
NDZ is accused of ‘abusing her power’, and the creator of the petition states that she is ‘withholding information’ from the rest of the country. Yet Dlamini-Zuma is, if nothing else, a very principled and tough-talking politician.
Sadly, her less-than-secret stance on some of South Africa’s favourite vices has alienated her from a large section of society. A little understanding goes a long way, and the minister will have to read the mood of the nation properly before trying to force through any divisive changes to the lockdown guidelines.