Johannesburg – The National Command Council (NCC) on coronavirus led by President Cyril Ramaphosa faces another stiff challenge as the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) wants Ramaphosa to divulge the minutes of a meeting where a decision was taken to continue with the ban on the sale of cigarettes.
This is Fita’s latest demand as the parties are set to square off at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. A date is yet to be set for the legal showdown.
Meanwhile, the Tobacco Association, which represents Carnilinx and Gold Leaf Tobacco, seeks to argue that the government’s decision to continue with the ban is “irrational and illegal”.
Their new application comes after the government made concessions to allow all major tobacco organisations to forge ahead with manufacturing tobacco and exporting it during level 4 of the lockdown.
However, despite the concession, the sale of tobacco products at various retail and spaza shops in the country is still prohibited – a decision that continues to irk Fita.
Yesterday, the parties were due to battle it out in court but the matter had to be postponed due to the government’s latest decision.
Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni confirmed that the association had agreed to the postponement.
“During the course of the last week, a number of court processes and correspondence have been exchanged between the parties via their respective legal representatives. The result of this has been that the government has agreed that the manufacturing and export of tobacco products have always been permitted under the present regulations promulgated on April 29, 2020 by the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs,” Mnguni said.
He added the agreement reached was that the manufacturing of tobacco products would go ahead but the workforce would be limited to only 30% of employees in a particular plant.
Mnguni further added that the government insisted that the manufacturing and transport of tobacco would need to adhere to strict health protocols.
Despite the relief, Mnguni highlighted they will go ahead with their main application to challenge the government’s decision to ban the sale of cigarettes.
According to Mnguni, they hope their urgent application will be placed on the court roll soon.
“We will now turn our focus to the relief sought in the main application, including confirmation by a court of law that the sale of tobacco products and cigarettes is lawful under the lockdown regulations. In an effort to expedite the matter, the respective legal representatives of both parties are currently working on a timetable to have part of the main case of our court application heard as soon as reasonably possible,” he said.
Mnguni further said: “We have full confidence in our legal system, and we are of the view that once this matter is properly ventilated, a just outcome will result. We will therefore relentlessly pursue our main application.”
The government is yet to respond to Fita’s papers.
By Baldwin Ndaba