What districts must do to reach lockdown level 3

President Cyril Ramaphosa / GCIS

Cigarette ban: Critics accuse Ramaphosa of ‘disgusting cover-up’

There’s no smoke (or smoking restrictions) without fire, and the decision to extend the cigarette ban is hounding Cyril Ramaphosa again on Thursday.

What districts must do to reach lockdown level 3

President Cyril Ramaphosa / GCIS

If you could turn back the clocks six weeks – to the eve of our first day of lockdown – and consider what the greatest challenge to Cyril Ramaphosa’s reputation would be, few would have pictured the smoke and mirrors of an increasingly dubious cigarette ban. But the president has sparked up a blaze of controversy recently.

First, our cigarettes were banned. Then they were going to be put back on sale. Then they were banned again. Eventually, a court challenge against the ‘reversal of the reversal’ was launched, making things even more difficult for the presidency. Ramaphosa’s team dug themselves an even bigger hole earlier, though.

Ramaphosa slammed for classifying cigarette meeting notes

The president’s spokesperson confirmed that the office would not be releasing the minutes of the meeting which yanked tobacco back off the shelves last week. That has caused more outrage than one would care to imagine. Ramaphosa is facing heavy criticism from South Africans online, and his political opposition are positvely enraged.

Two members of the shadow cabinet and a DA MP have vented their frustrations. We’re expecting a party-wide statement on the issue later in the day, but some politicians have blasted the government for orchestrating a ‘disgusting cover-up’. The language used is coarse, to say the least.

Political opponents smoke-out the president

Leon Schreiber, shadow public service minister: “Disgusting cover-up underway by Cyril Ramaphosa… His NCC is out of control and must be stopped.”

Ashor Sarupen, DA MP: “Constitutional delinquents… Classified decision-making is completely unrelated to national security.”

Dean Macpherson, shadow trade minister: “They won’t show us the data they rely on to make decisions, they won’t give us the rationale for regulations they dictate and now refuse this under the excuse it’s ‘classified’. You get the impression there’s something being hidden from the public by Cyril’s government.”

Lockdown: How cigarettes became the most contentious issue

The cigarette fiasco has certainly sewn seeds of discontent amongst the public. It hasn’t been a PR victory Ramaphosa and the ANC, who were widely acclaimed at first for their rapid response to the global health crisis.

But, as the weeks went on, patience with misbehaving ministers wore a little thinner. Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Fikile Mbalula and Bheki Cele all faced legal cases for various misdemeanors over the past 42 days of lockdown. When Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma then extended the ban on tobacco products, much of the goodwill carefully crafted by this country’s leadership went up in smoke.

The president is standing firmly by Dlamini-Zuma and the National Command Council that she leads. Ramaphosa has since revealed that NDZ only makes decisions based on the input of all Cabinet ministers – all except Tito Mboweni, perhaps, who claimed he was in favour of selling cigarettes during lockdown Level 4.

Indeed, that disdain has made its way rapidly across to the opposition benches…