The South African Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) has written to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), calling for the ban on tobacco products to be lifted.
In an open letter, dated 18 May, SAITA stated that it understood the need for extraordinary measures to be put in place to fight Covid-19, but that its sector had been hit the hardest by the regulations.
“Our spaza shops and traders, according to statistics provided by them, depend to a very large degree on the sale of tobacco products, and in some instances it accounts for up to 50% of total sales,” SAITA president Rosheda Muller said.
The ban on the sale of tobacco products has been in place since the initial lockdown on 26 March.
President Cyril Ramaphosa previously announced that the sale of tobacco products would be allowed under Level 4, but this was changed days later when Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that the sale of tobacco products would remain prohibited.
Dlamini-Zuma said the U-turn came after the government received more than 2 000 submissions from the public opposing the sale of tobacco products.
The NCCC, however, allowed spaza shops and informal traders to trade essential goods with a permit, in a bid to allow them to earn a living during the pandemic.
SAITA – which conducts business in communities as traders – claims that smokers are now risking their lives by travelling outside their communities to seek tobacco products.
“This unnecessary movement, more often than not, results in the acquisition of [illicit] cigarettes, thereby further fueling crime and gangsterism.
“Frustrations within our communities run high when smokers are unable to source cigarettes and domestic violence becomes an inevitable by-product thereof,” Muller said.
She called on the NCCC to act now to save the sector.
“Please, save our sector and our economy by doing the sensible thing – unban the sale of tobacco products and allow us to return to some semblance of normality and sustainability.”
News24 reported on Friday that it had reliably learnt that Dlamini-Zuma had told the NCCC that the sale of tobacco and alcohol should continue to be banned until the country reaches Level 1 of the lockdown.
News24 contacted the Presidency for comment. It will be added once received.