“Cigarettes are not banned forever in our country. The ban on cigarettes will be lifted.” These are the only words of comfort President Cyril Ramaphosa had for smokers after a question from a caller during Wednesday’s virtual Presidential Imbizo.
He urged South Africans to accept the ban until such a time as the government deems it okay to lift it.
“The lockdown is still in place in terms of our regulations,” he said, reminding citizens that the national state of disaster and the rules that govern it are still in place.
This after he made mention of the incidents shown on social media indicating that people are flouting lockdown regulations.
“It is concerning that we’ve seen instances where people are having parties and other social gatherings. Some are no longer adhering to the limits at funerals. This cannot be the case, we have to play our part.”
Touching on another question about why government saw it fit to unban alcohol and not cigarettes, he acknowledged that there has been a rise in the number of emergency situations due to the unbanning of alcohol, but that this has been weighed against the cons of the increase in the illicit trade of alcohol and the health implications of this trade. This is contrary to government’s position on cigarettes.
“The rationale was that you could not keep a number of areas of South African economic activity closed forever.”
You can watch the full imbizo recording here:
On the topic of the increased freedom of movement, the president said the curfew seemed to be too restrictive of a regulation.
He cautioned that people should still not move about unnecessarily and should only be mobile when absolutely necessary.
In addition to the cigarette ban, questions about gender-based violence, the re-opening of schools and other lockdown-regulated topics dominated the trends in questions posed to the president, both through the toll free line and on the dedicated social media hashtag.
He also addressed the state of readiness of the country’s health system, once again, and made mention of where he see’s the country’s economic future going.
“We have strengthened our response strategy by adding more hospital beds and procuring the necessary equipment to deal with the outbreak. We have also rolled out an extensive public awareness campaign…”
“I know that many people are now afraid of what the future holds, where there are looming job losses. Some of you fear this more than the virus itself.
“The economy is set to continue contracting but through various initiatives we will scale up efforts to provide more jobs, more infrastructure and more investments. The work has begun for the recovery process.”
After addressing the scourge of gender-based violence in his opening remarks, he went on to label this crisis “a second pandemic” in response to a question posed to him on the open line.
“We have a second pandemic in our country. Gender-based violence has become a second pandemic in our country.”
Ramaphosa stated that police should not dismiss and pass judgement in instances where a victim of GBV has been violated by a mentally challenged perpetrator, after a caller recounted her own experience in this regard.
“The victim’s needs come first. Redress must begin with the victim and before dealing with the perpetrator.”
“I am aware that the calls for the death penalty often come in light of the rising GBV but we are bound by our Constitution. Instead, there are other means of [mediating] such as handing down life sentences with hard labour.”
“We used to have the death penalty in South Africa but the Constitutional Court had to reflect on this. The apex court found that the right to life could not be looked at selectively,” he added.
A social media user identified only as Sandile asked about how much importance the government placed on the right to life vs. the importance of opening schools, to which the president responded by emphasising how much stock his government places in the right to life.
Ramaphosa stated once again that things could not remain closed forever and explained the thought process behind deciding that schools should be reopened.
He concluded with a call for people to continue to follow the rules.
“We’re not the only ones in the world going through this testing moment. The only defense we have is to change our behaviour.”