Are cigarette sales banned, or legal?
The confusion at top government level was mirrored on the ground on Friday.
This week, the Western Cape government said cigarettes could be purchased at supermarkets along with essential goods.
But Police Minister Bheki Cele hit back on Thursday, saying that cigarette sales were still against lockdown regulations.
At two major petrol station chains in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, the answer was a resolute: “No cigarettes. Sales are banned.”
Shelves were empty, or locked.
But at two other small convenience stores along a major arterial route in Cape Town, the request for cigarettes was heard.
Shopkeepers paused, seemed to evaluate the risk, and then cautiously asked: “What brand?”
They then produced boxes from under the counter.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said on Friday he appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa for clarity on the proper interpretation of the lockdown regulations.
Winde said he was serious about cooperating with the national government’s efforts to fight Covid-19.
“I therefore called President Ramaphosa this morning to make clear that our concerns relate to the proper interpretation of the regulations, which are at times vague. Together with the national government, we want to apply a common sense approach to them that stops the spread, but also assists us with things like e-learning, for example,” he said.
He pointed out that the debate was not only about cigarettes, but also about whether data dongles and notebooks or pens for pupils were considered essential while schools were closed.
Winde, who thanked the president for his willingness to “help us and our residents get the clarity they need”, will submit a list of issues which he believes require clarification to the Minister of Cooperative Governance on Friday, and a special President’s Coordinating Council will be called on Saturday to discuss the regulations in particular, he said.