It has not been a great day for smokers and tobacco farmers, with one of two court challenges to the covid-19 tobacco ban dismissed and the other delayed for a further six weeks.
The Pretoria high court has dismissed court action by Fair-trade Independent Associations (Fita) and its demand that government overturn its decision on the continued ban on the sale of tobacco products, the organisation confirmed.
In the second matter, between tobacco industry giant British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa), and government it was announced that it would no longer be heard before the Western Cape High court next week.
Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni confirmed the organisation’s high court defeat. “I cannot divulge too much at the moment because we have just received word, and we’re currently in talks with our legal team over the next steps,” he said.
Batsa this morning revealed that it had received communication from the legal representatives of government, that its urgent application against the ban on the sale of tobacco products has been postponed from 30 June to 5 and 6 August.
The tobacco juggernaut received an email this morning stating that the case be delayed by a further six-weeks, into the next legal term, a spokesperson said.
The company has since rubbished government’s decision and accused Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa and minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, of doing a “total volte face” when they had initially agreed over the urgency of the matter.
This decision not to consider its urgent application has been described as “inexplicable” and “worrying” the tobacco juggernaut said in a media release.
The company’s head of external affairs, Johnny Moloto, has once more reiterated that the ban has had a detrimental effect on the South African economy.
“This delaying of justice and a resolution of this issue is inexplicable. By the time the case is heard the ban will have been in place for four and half months during which time billions of illegal cigarettes will have been sold,” said Moloto.
“In this almost six-week delay alone the fiscus will lose more than R1.4 billion in excise tax alone as the massive cigarette trade tightens its grip on the country.
“Thousands of jobs stand to be lost in the economy as criminality becomes the new normal. We are considering all our legal options and will be liaising directly with the government, as we had both previously agreed that the matter was urgent and needed to be heard next Tuesday.
“Postponing a case that has been agreed, by both sides, to be urgent is something that we believe is unprecedented and is very worrying.
‘Government is not at war with the tobacco industry’
The department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) has denied claims that the government is behind the decision to postpone the case.
When Batsa had requested the matter be heard on the 24th, the respondents had agreed and were fully on board, said Cogta spokesperson Mlungisi Mtshali. Both parties had agreed the matter be heard before a full-bench of the Western Cape High court.
“The response we got from the Judge President was that a full-bench can hear the matter on the 5th and 6th of August,” Mtshali said.
All decisions made thus far in the implementation of regulations have been to safeguard the health of the public, he added.
“We have never been at war with the tobacco companies. We are not interested in public spats with the tobacco companies. What we are saying is that all of the regulations that we have gazetted and continue to gazette are in the best interest of the public at large.”