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Ongoing tobacco ban turning informal traders into beggars, criminals into billionaires – Saita

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Why is government, and especially the SAPS, so obsessed with the sale of cigarettes, asks SA Informal Traders Alliance

THE SOUTH African Informal Traders Alliance (Saita) has urged government to urgently lift the ban on cigarette sales under the Covid-19 regulations, as first promised when the country moved to Level 4 lockdown, saying government has forgotten “what it’s like in townships”.

A continued ban until Level 1 would put informal traders on the streets, adding to government’s already enormous social grant burden, Saita, the national voice of informal traders, including spaza shops, in South Africa, said in a statement on Sunday.

Cigarette sales made up a sizeable portion of the average informal traders’ sales, and in many cases, 100 percent of sales. Further banning cigarettes would put millions of South Africans at risk and rob them of their dignity, Saita said.

Informal traders could only access the R350 per month Covid-19 government relief and did not have access to the other assistance provided to formalised small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or bigger businesses.

“Government is turning legitimate informal traders into beggars, smokers into criminals, and illicit tobacco dealers into billionaires,” Saita president Rosheda Muller said.

“Where millions of traders were previously able to operate with dignity and confidence, knowing they were contributing positively to the economy, and importantly, their families, their ability to trade has been ripped from them by a government that is unwilling to listen or to consult. This will have a profoundly negative impact on their livelihoods, their dignity, and their trust in government,” she warned.

Muller again called on the National Covid-19 Command Council to immediately unban the sale of tobacco. 

Regarding Police Minister Bheki Cele’s statement that police would “demand two-month old receipts from smokers”, she said this was totally ridiculous in the township setting.

“Firstly, we think government has forgotten what it’s like in townships; when last did they see a cash register on an informal traders’ table? Secondly, why is government, and especially the SAPS, so obsessed with the sale of cigarettes? Their focus should be squarely on protecting the nation and its people instead of interfering in their ability to put food on the table,” Muller said.

“We also don’t understand why government is consulting with everyone – taxi organisations, churches, traditional leaders, big business – except us. If they had spoken to us they would have known the impact the ban would have on the informal trade.

“You would have to be blind and deaf to not hear the public’s anger bubbling up over this issue. South Africans don’t understand what is behind the ban, and in the absence of any real evidence, it is only natural to speculate that the ban is a cover up for something much larger and darker,” she said.

– African News Agency (ANA)