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Cigarette ban a collective decision - Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa said it is 'wrong to suggest there are ministers or a president doing and saying whatever they want' regarding the sale of tobacco products during lockdown.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said it is 'wrong to suggest there are ministers or a president doing and saying whatever they want' regarding the sale of tobacco products during lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has explained that the decision to extend the ban of cigarette sales under the level 4 lockdown regulations was a collective decision of the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) following public consultation.

“There has been much public comment on government’s decision to extend the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products into level 4. A decision like this is bound to be controversial, but it is wrong to suggest there are ministers or a president doing and saying whatever they want on this matter,” he said on Monday.

Writing in his weekly column, Ramaphosa said when he announced that cigarette sales would be permitted during level 4, the announcement was based on the view of the national coronavirus command council which was contained in the draft framework that was published for consultation.

“After careful consideration and discussion, the NCCC reconsidered its position on tobacco. As a result, the regulations ratified by cabinet and announced by minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on April 29 extended the prohibition.

“This was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the minister were done on behalf of, and mandated by, the collective I lead,” he said.

“Every regulation we have put in place has been carefully considered. Along the way there has been consultation with medical experts, various constituencies and different industries. We have been guided by international bodies and the experience of other countries,” said Ramaphosa.

The government's u-turn on the cigarette ban has led to loud criticism of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, with some claiming she undermined Ramaphosa when announcing the u-turn.

Dlamini-Zuma made the announcement to extend the ban at a press conference last Wednesday, citing, among other reasons, public submissions which opposed the lifting of the ban. The lockdown regulations are provided for under the Disaster Management Act of which Cogta and Dlamini-Zuma as Cogta's political head are the custodians.

Ramaphosa noted that there is still a great deal about the epidemiology of the virus that is unknown.

“It is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgment in future,” he said.

The president said while there were differing views on some of the decisions the government has taken, and in some instances these have polarised opinion, government was making every effort to act in a way that advances the rights to life and dignity of all people.

“Listening to our people and their concerns during this period has been one of the distinguishing features of how we as government have managed this pandemic.

“We continue to listen to the concerns of our people and are prepared to make adjustments that balance people’s concerns about the challenges they face with the need to save lives,” he said.

Ramaphosa cited a a 1995 judgment of the Constitutional Court that outlawed capital punishment as the basis in which the lockdown regulations are founded.

In that judgment, Justice Arthur Chaskalson wrote: “The rights to life and dignity are the most important of all human rights and the source of all other personal rights. By committing ourselves to a society founded on the recognition of human rights we are required to value these two rights above all others.”

Ramaphosa said: “The regulations we have put in place are founded on that commitment to life and dignity, and which justify – in these extreme circumstances – temporary restrictions on other rights, like freedom of movement and association.”

The president also noted that an estimated one-fifth of the world’s population was under quarantine or nationwide lockdown, and said dozens of countries have imposed curfews such as the one in place in SA, including limitations on movement and restrictions and bans of alcohol sales in certain countries.

“At this difficult time, our collective energies must be focused on ensuring that health and life is preserved, that the delivery of food, water, health care, social security and social support is not disrupted.

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, as government, as individuals and as society, we will at times make mistakes. When these occur, we will correct them. But we must carry on, losing neither our nerve nor our resolve,” he said.

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