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By Sydney Majoko

Writer


Ramaphosa’s booze vs tobacco balancing act makes no sense

The president better pray that he is not left with two things he is trying to avoid: a massively high body count and a completely wrecked economy.


The presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa since taking over two years ago can be summed up in one word: appeasement. Be it trying to placate the one faction baying for his blood from within his own party prior to the pandemic, or keeping the business sector happy during a pandemic that has practically destroyed the global economy, his has been a presidency of playing a delicate balancing act. At first, the pandemic looked as though it would provide a perfect opportunity for him to finally stamp his authority on the presidential chair. But it has turned out to be exactly in…

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The presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa since taking over two years ago can be summed up in one word: appeasement. Be it trying to placate the one faction baying for his blood from within his own party prior to the pandemic, or keeping the business sector happy during a pandemic that has practically destroyed the global economy, his has been a presidency of playing a delicate balancing act.

At first, the pandemic looked as though it would provide a perfect opportunity for him to finally stamp his authority on the presidential chair. But it has turned out to be exactly in line with how his government has been doing things until now – trying to please everyone, all at once.

To be fair, the current act of trying to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable South Africans, while trying to keep the economy going, is not one of his own making (unlike the other political blunders he has made in the past, such as making a deal with undesirable elements in his party just to ascend to the presidency).

The thing, though, is that when his legacy is assessed, his good intentions of trying to please all sides simultaneously will count for nothing.

It is the numbers that matter – how many people died due to his government’s actions or how many billions (possibly trillions) were wiped off the balance sheet of the economy due to the lockdown. A truly unenviable position to be in.

However, just because he is between a rock and a hard place must never be an excuse for avoiding making the hard decisions. And the logic must be there for all to see. The decision to stop the sale of cigarettes and liquor during the Covid-19 lockdown was supposedly made to help halt the spread of the virus and to avoid clogging the already fragile health system. The Cooperative Governance Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and others like Dr Aaron Motsoaledi are allegedly arguing that science indicates smoking increases chances of coronavirus-infected smokers needing a ventilator, of which SA is in short supply. Very logical.

But there is the not-so-small matter of a booming illicit liquor and cigarette market. Indications are that the decision to curtail their sale has not had the desired effect.

The initial decision was allegedly based on science. What is the logic behind unbanning liquor and not cigarettes from June 1? Cigarettes are more easily accessible on the black market because South Africa’s northern neighbours can easily smuggle those across the porous border.

In other words, the continued ban on cigarettes does not make sense on either the science (people are smoking anyway), or the economics (the tax collector is losing billions of rands).

The only argument that makes sense is that the decision to keep the cigarettes ban is a principled and sentimental stand.

To take the muddled logic to its logical end, the lifting of the ban on liquor cannot be for the same reasons it was banned in the first place because daily infection figures are above 1,000 a day now, compared to the fewer than 100 a day when the ban was put in place.

Therefore, the only reason the alcohol ban was lifted is to appease a section of the population. No surprises there – appeasement.

The president better pray that he is not left with two things he is trying to avoid: a massively high body count and a completely wrecked economy.

Sydney Majoko.

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