Opinion Piece: Is this smoking ban more about the money made on illegal “Zol” than the safety of our “saliva”?

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be moving down to Level 4 of the lockdown and tobacco products would be sold, I was elated.

That was until Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma danced into our lives and said the ban on tobacco products would in fact continue. Because, “when people zol, they put saliva”. Yes, for our international readers that is a quote from a Minister in South Africa.

As the ban continued, a lot of speculation surrounding the possible motive for the ban grew. The most popular conspiracy theory is that Minister Dlamini-Zuma is benefitting financially from the ban.

Shortly after she announced that the ban on tobacco products would continue, it was reported that she was friends with the alleged cigarette smuggler, Adriano Mazzotti.

While she denies the friendship, a photograph surfaced of the two pals. They have also allegedly visited both Greece and the UK together. Strange to go on overseas holidays with someone you are not friends with. 

Furthermore, in 2017, TimesLIVE reported on Jacques Pauw’s shocking investigation into the Zuma administration, which he outlined in his book, The President’s Keepers.

In the book, Pauw revealed that Mazzotti was a contributor to the then ANC presidential hopeful Dlamini-Zuma. He also allegedly made “secret payments to other members of the Zuma family, including the president and his son, Edward.

On the subject of Edward Zuma, he was linked to a huge consignment of ‘illicit’ cigarettes police seized in Edenvale during August 2013.

On the subject of Edward Zuma, he was allegedly linked to a huge consignment of ‘illicit’ cigarettes police seized in Edenvale during August 2013.

Let us also not forget that in 2018, the Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa) released a research report claiming to make the best estimate yet of the size of the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa.

At the time of its publication, the report said the estimate is 8 billion cigarettes a year.

Furthermore, it named three companies as the major culprits. The three biggest culprits at time were Gold Leaf Tobacco Company, Best Tobacco Company and Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturers, which counted Edward Zuma, the son as a director.

However, Yusuf Kajee, chief executive officer of the Amalgamated Tobacco, claims Zuma resigned from his post as director in 2014.

Back to the relationship between Mazotti and Dlamini-Zuma. Mazzotti also claims he had no relationship with Minister Dlamini-Zuma and had not funded her presidential campaign in 2017.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), has launched an urgent court challenge to the tobacco ban, citing, among other concerns, the rise of illicit trade as well as the loss of revenue for the state.

Mazzotti is a founding member of Fita and claimed he does not benefit from the ban at all.

However, there are allegations that Mazotti, the owner of the cigarette company Carnilinx, has smuggled cigarettes into the country to avoid paying taxes.

With all the allegations surrounding Dlamini-Zuma and Mazotti, as well as the fact that Edward Zuma was once caught with illicit cigarettes, one needs to wonder, is there something sinister going on? Why are the most popular cigarettes on the black market linked to alleged smugglers? Who is benefitting from this?

While the sellers of illegal cigarettes are pushing prices higher and higher, can we really blame them? They are facing the risk of imprisonment and they are probably forced to pay high prices to acquire the cigarettes?

Are we onto something big here? Or are we all just puffing on a fabricated lockdown created theory?

The World Health Organisation published an article on May 11, claiming smokers were at risk of COVID-19. But let us be honest, smokers are fully aware of the dangers linked to cigarettes. Regardless of the dangers, it is our choice to make. 

If your health were a concern, then why would the Government lift the ban on alcohol? Alcohol is responsible for thousands of deaths, car accidents, domestic violence cases, abuse, job losses, business failures, suicides and so on. 

Think about it, what could go wrong? A country on the verge of collapse, in a global pandemic where the Government has to pay out additional grants, seeing tens of thousands of people out of pocket. Food parcels even have to be distributed to keep people alive and now alcohol will be served.  

We have come to learn that this pandemic is not a death sentence for all. Something, we initially were led to believe.

If we all adhere to social distancing, wash our hands, boost our immune systems and don’t share a cigarette with a friend, are we really going to contract COVID-19 quicker than a person at church or a teacher in a classroom? 

Being protected by Government is one thing, but being led down “the garden path” is an entirely different story. I guess as time burns on, we will learn more truths about these trying times. 

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