KwaZulu-Natal

Even presidents can change their minds, says Ramaphosa about cigarette U-turn

By Des Erasmus 5 May 2020
Caption
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

No one was trying to ‘pursue any interests’ by continuing the cigarette ban, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday smiled away the continued “brouhaha” over a direct U-turn on the sale of cigarettes during South Africa’s slightly eased Level 4 lockdown, saying there was “nothing wrong” with changing one’s mind.

The president made the remarks while being doorstopped by journalists at the Royal Show Grounds in Pietermaritzburg. He had spent the day in KwaZulu-Natal, with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, and his presidential entourage, going walkabout with Premier Sihle Zikalala to several facilities that form part of the province’s Covid-19 response. 

No one was trying to “pursue any interests” by continuing the cigarette ban, Ramaphosa said in response to questions, an accusation that had been levelled at cooperative governance minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, whose hatred of smoking is a matter of public record. 

Dlamini Zuma has been accused of “undermining” Ramaphosa by saying cigarettes would still be banned under Level 4 lockdown regulations, despite the president saying six days earlier that the ban would be lifted. 

Local cigarette manufactures under the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association are challenging the “unconstitutional” ban in court, as is global player British American Tobacco’s South African outfit. Batsa issued an ultimatum for the ban to be revoked by 10am on Monday, which did not happen. 

Ramaphosa defended the “collective” decision in his weekly Monday newsletter. 

Expanding on that, he told journalists at the showgrounds: 

“There is nothing wrong whatsoever in any one of us changing our minds. You can ask yourself if you have ever changed your mind on anything, and you find that you have done it more times than just sticking to a position that you may have taken originally. 

“So this brouhaha on this issue really shouldn’t even be there, because none of us is trying to pursue any interests. The only interests we are pursuing is the health and the interests of our people. That is all, finished and klaar,” said a smiling Ramaphosa. 

Earlier in the day, while still in Durban, Ramaphosa poured praise on Mkhize for the national response to the virus. 

“Much of the work we are doing is led by Dr Mkhize, who has been doing a sterling job in giving guidance and leadership and intellectual capability.” 

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) looked at South Africa, they saw “a truly shining example of how countries should have responded to the challenge of Covid-19”. 

“We are by no means out of the woods, we are still deep in the woods,” said the president, but Mkhize’s leadership and relying “on science” instead of “thumbsucking” had been important. 

Ramaphosa also praised Zikalala and his command council for their response to the virus. 

Two weeks ago, Zikalala was severely criticised after announcing that self-isolation would no longer be allowed for those who tested positive, even if they only displayed mild symptoms of the virus. 

Instead, said the premier, all confirmed Covid-19 cases would be “taken” to government-approved facilities. 

The public outcry was enough to make Zikalala backtrack on his statements in less than a week. 

The province has also been rife with allegations of relief food parcels intended for the poor being distributed on a political basis, the vast majority of the wrongdoers being ANC councillors. 

Zikalala has put out a statement warning those taking part in the practice, but nothing on the ground has changed, according to various NPOs and citizens that Daily Maverick has spoken to. 

The provincial government has also been accused of hiding its local and regional Covid-19 infection figures. 

None of this, however, seems to have affected Ramaphosa’s view on the province’s Covid-19 management.

KwaZulu-Natal had done “very well” with its response, said the president, and he was “pleased”, although more hospital beds were needed for the expected surge in infections. 

“You have demonstrated that you have been able to do much more than what is expected. You have set up the right structures to properly address the issues right now.” 

“In a way, Covid-19 has given us an opportunity for a new beginning. A new beginning, for a new way of doing things, for new sectors of our economy, new ways of functioning. It should enhance a number of things we need to do as a country going forward,” said the president. DM

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