Ciggie wars: black tobacco farmers paying the price

Nearly 300 000 people rely on free-flowing activity on the tobacco value chain

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Despite the SANDF busting more cigarette smugglers near the Zimbabwean border, government continues to defend its cigarette lockdown sales ban – a move that is not only infuriating smokers, but also threatening the livelihood of black tobacco farmers.

A rather distressed chairman of the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, tells Food For Mzansi, “It is in the hands of the courts now.” This after a second round in court earlier this week for Fita’s appeal to overturn the decision by the North Gauteng High Court to keep the controversial ban in place.

Fita chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni. Photo: Supplied

The South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA) says more than 296 000 people are reliant on the free-flowing activity of the tobacco value chain. This includes tobacco farmers and workers, who were already under severe strain because of the illicit market, as well as processors, manufacturers and retailers.

Spokesperson Zacharia Motsumi says the ban is directly threatening the survival of the black, tobacco farmer. He says, “It is totally unacceptable that a legitimate, taxpaying business sector should be taking to the brink of ruin in such a way and we call on government to immediately lift the ban and allow cigarettes to be sold in the same way as before the lockdown.”

Meanwhile Mnguni tells Food For Mzansi that they remain confident in their appeal to overturn the decision by the North Gauteng High Court to keep the controversial ban in place. After a second round in court this week Mnguni says, “We will continue to fight for farmers. We will continue to fight for the workers and we will continue to fight for smokers until the ban is lifted.”

Tobacco sales ban ‘irrational’

In June, the same Pretoria court dismissed Fita’s initial legal challenge against government. The court found no merit in Fita’s argument over the necessity of tobacco. This week, on Wednesday during a virtual hearing, a full-bench of judges heard the application by Fita to have its case heard before the Supreme court of Appeal.

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Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa Photo: SA Government

Fita, represented by Arnold Subbel, pushed forward to show that the decision taken by pres. Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as head of the covid-19 command council was “irrational”.

Subbel argues that the tobacco ban is bleeding out the economy, costing billions in revenue losses. Government, however, remains resolute in its stance on the ban on tobacco products. Adv. Marumo Moerane maintained that government would rather try to save as many lives as possible despite the severity of job losses and the economic strain placed on the tobacco industry.

‘Illicit cigarette trade nothing new’

Moerane also says government was aware of the booming trade in illicit cigarettes, but argued that this has always existed. They therefore believe Fita had no just cause to make mention of this fact.

On Friday the SANDF confiscated cigarettes destined for the black market in a bust in Madimbo near Zimbabwe, allegedly the gateway for cigarette smugglers. The value of the confiscated tobacco products is estimated at nearly R600 000.

  • Nearly 10 000 people have already signed an online pledge to end the cigarette ban. SATTA says by overturning the ban, they will prevent the massive job losses across the value chain and stop the South African economy from losing R35 million in revenue every day that the ban continues.
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