President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken on a number of key issues surrounding the country’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
Responding to questions in a virtual Q&A on Wednesday evening (1 July), Ramaphosa fielded questions from members of the public, with much of the focus dedicated to the continued prohibition on the sale of tobacco products as well as the reintroduction of the death penalty amid high levels of crime and the spotlight on gender based violence in the country.
His answers are outlined in more detail below.
The ban on the sale of cigarettes
The president’s very first question focused on the continued prohibition of the sale of tobacco products in South Africa.
In response, the president emphasised that the ban is not permanent and will be lifted in due course.
“We will not be under lockdown forever. The ban on cigarettes will be lifted. It is still in place now in terms of our regulations and I think that we should accept it as such.
“With time, as we go to another level and another level, the ban on cigarettes will also be lifted. Cigarettes are not banned forever in our country, the ban will be lifted.”
This echoes a similar reply from the president to a parliamentary question in June.
Ramaphosa said that the decision to promulgate the Disaster Management Regulations, including regulation 27 (of the Regulations), which prohibits the sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related products was taken after careful consideration.
He said this included submissions received as well as relevant medical literature focusing on the effects of smoking on public and individual health, especially in the face of a respiratory illness such as Covid-19.
“After my initial announcement on 23 April 2020, following representations that were made by various organisations and individuals and further consideration of relevant medical studies and advice, a different position was ultimately adopted by the National Coronavirus Command Council and thereafter by Cabinet before the regulations were promulgated,” he said.
“At this stage, it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products will be lifted.
“This will depend on such factors as the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of our health systems and evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself.”
The death penalty
Ramaphosa noted that South Africa has previously had the death penalty in place, but added that it was not compatible with the introduction of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“The Bill of Rights contains a very important basic right – ‘the right to life’. And it so happens that our Constitutional court had to reflect on this matter to find out what this right to life meant.”
“They confirmed that the right to life militated against a death penalty and that lead to the death penalty being abolished.”
He noted that South Africa is not the only country which has abolished the death penalty, with others following suit.
However, he recognised the argument for its reintroduction – especially when horrendous crimes have been committed against women and children.
“But we are bound by our Consitution. There are other ways of meting out punishment,” he said.
He added that the government was pushing for strict sentences for serious crimes against women.
The ban on alcohol
Despite the government’s decision to allow for the sale of alcohol under level 3 lockdown, Ramaphose indicated that ‘concerns remain’ about its potentially harmful effects.
The president said that the unbanning of alcohol has led to gender-based violence and accidents – something that the country has continued to grapple with and has seen a spike in recent weeks.
He noted that the rationale of the unbanning of alcohol was to make provision for a better economic outlook.
However, since the relaxation of the regulations “we’ve started to see the ugly side of society” with trauma units being clogged up.
President Ramaphosa also expressed concern over people who are not taking safety precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, he said.
“All of us need to have a good reason to move around, there is a reason why you are out there,” he said.
Speaking on the issue of privatisation, Ramaphosa noted that South Africa has committed itself to a ‘mixed economy ‘ which includes both a public sector and private sector.
He said that even in highly capitalist countries, the public sector still owns certain entities.
“We are committed to a developmental trajectory and we want to develop our country and believe that there are a number of companies that will continue to play a key role in the development of our country.
“We are a developmental state that still wants to make sure that the lives of our people that are improved and in doing so there are certain companies and entities that must have a developmental thrust.”
He cited the example of Eskom and the fact that only around 60% of South Africans had electricity post-democracy.
It had to take a state-owned entity like Eskom to drive the layout of electricity for the rest of the population.
“That could only be done on an entity that was not privately owned. Granted it ran into its own problems, but its work done from 1994 onwards was of a developmental nature,” he said.