Cigarette smugglers have continued raking in the profits of their labour while legitimate companies such as British American Tobacco (BAT) continue arm-wrestling with CoGTA head, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Earlier this week, a Tzaneen-based pilot and close friend of the Bulletin, provided us with photographs taken from his helicopter as he was flying over the Limpopo River near Mussina this past week. In these exclusive photographs one can see a caravan of approximately 17 people crossing the river from Zimbabwe to South Africa carrying boxes of cigarettes.
According to the pilot, a white bakkie was waiting for the deliveries on the South African side of the river.
“It was right at the spot where the new border fence the government erected a few weeks ago, meets the old dilapidated border fence. A bakkie was reversed over the fence, flattening the wire to the ground on the South African side, and was being loaded with these boxes by the people who were coming from through the river from the Zimbabwean side,” the pilot recalled.
The people, upon noticing the helicopter, dropped their packages and ran back through the river towards the Zimbawean border and hid in the bushes. The bakkie on the South African side drove off.
Our pilot source did not interfere or follow the bakkie as he was on official business elsewhere.
Bulletin has forwarded the images to the national police spokesperson, Brig Vish Naidoo. We asked him about the plans to curb the trade of illicit cigarette smuggling across the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa and he promised to provide us with a detailed response as soon as he has taken the matter up with the relevant parties.
At the time of going to print however, we had not received any such information.
Before minister Dlamini-Zuma decided to place a ban on the sale of cigarettes, South Africa had started making progress in the fight against the rampant illicit cigarette trade which at the time was costing the country R10 billion a year. This is according to a statement by BAT who have decided to drop their planned legal action against the government in favour of negotiations to have the ban lifted earlier this month.
Despite calls from opposition parties and outraged taxpaying citizens, Dlamini-Zuma has yet to provide any real data to support her outlandish decision to enforce the cigarette ban. This has led to speculations by opposition parties as to the true intent of the ban, given the lack of any medical research to support it.
Retailers who support the ban on cigarette sales have defended the decision by claiming that they would not want people rushing to their stores for non-essential items such as cigarettes.
Counter-arguments include that retailers should then also stop selling other “non-essential” items such as fizzy drinks, sweets and biltong and that if a smoker was allowed to buy cigarettes before the lockdown, they would have stocked up enough and then stayed home, thereby illuminating the crowding of the stores which seems to be the primary fear of the retail industry.
Nevertheless, the cigarettes counters have stood vacant for more than two months while the illicit cigarette trade has boomed. This journalist has managed to find a cigarette dealer in less than two minutes by simply driving into Tzaneen’s CBD.
In fact, not just one dealer, but around eight of them in the space of 300 metres in the vicinity the Tzaneng Mall and the Claude Wheatley taxi rank. This was captured on video several times during the popular “Daily Drive with Joe” shows.
In an interview on Tuesday, Dlamini-Zuma sited a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) which listed the benefits of stopping smoking. She also claimed that a study by the HSRC found that a lot of people did not go out looking for cigarettes. It appears that this was motivation enough for the minister to further double down on her decision to ban cigarette sales.
In the same interview, the DA’s Cathlene Labuschagne launched a cheeky attack at the minister stating that there has been no scientific studies to support that smokers are more at risk of contracting covid-19 and that despite the ban, smokers have continued to smoke, but have been forced to support the illicit trade. According to Labuschagne, this would appear to be the sole reason behind the ban, specifically from the minister’s point of view considering her alleged friendship with the businessman, Adriano Mazotti.
“The minister is known to have visited Greece and the United Kingdom with Mr Mazzotti, who now denies that they are friends. Where will the two unfriendly travel partners be going with your profits once the lockdown is completely lifted, minister?” asked Labuschagne.
Dlamini-Zuma denied this statement. “I must put it on record that I am not Mazzotti’s friend. If anyone is doing crime in South Africa, they must be arrested, no matter the crime.” Shortly after the ban on cigarette and tobacco sales was announced, images and articles from 2017 started circulating on social media, showing the minister pictured next to the “self-confessed tobacco smuggler”.
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