When the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, announced that the government would be going back on the decision to allow the sale of tobacco during alert level 4, her statement was met with outrage from the general public.
On social media, images and articles from 2017 started circulating, showing the minister with renowned tobacco smuggler Adriano Mazzotti, stoking speculation that she had ulterior motives for discontinuing the sale of cigarettes.
The rise and rise of the illicit cigarette trade, which has consumed billions in tax money that should be going back into the economy, was put forward as further proof that there might be an underlying reason for the ban that extended past the government’s claim that it was in the best interests of South African citizens.
Now Mazzotti has come forward to deny these claims, stating that they are “blatantly untrue”.
News24 with Mazzotti’s statement:
“The allegation that I have some connection with Minister [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma and may have had an influence on the decision made by government in relation to the ban of tobacco products during the lockdown for self-gain, is outrageous,” Mazzotti said in a statement released on Monday night.
“I have stated on record on numerous occasions that there is no relationship between myself and Minister Dlamini-Zuma and I did not fund her presidential campaign as has been maliciously alleged.”
Mazzotti signed a statement in 2014, admitting that he and his company, Carnilinx, were complicit in fraud, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.
But, in his statement, Mazzotti – a self-admitted benefactor of both the EFF and the ANC – says he has suffered ongoing “politically motivated” harassment as “I continue to be untruthfully linked to Minister Dlamini-Zuma”.
In 2017, TimesLIVE reported on Jacques Pauw’s shocking investigation into the Zuma administration outlined in his book, The President’s Keepers, which revealed that Mazzotti was a contributor to the then ANC presidential hopeful Dlamini-Zuma. He also allegedly made “secret payments to other members of the Zuma family, including the president and his son Edward”.
The claims that Mazzotti is somehow implicated in the tobacco ban has also been shared by DA leader John Steenhuisen, who was quick to point out the connection.
Taking to Twitter, Steenhuisen said that he was not backing the ban, and implied that Mazzotti and Dlamini-Zuma were working together.
Per News24, Mazzotti says that the public should be focusing on “flattening the curve” rather than taking “this opportunity as a platform to defame” him.
Mazzotti also insists that his cigarette manufacturing company, Carnilinx, “has been fully compliant with the lockdown regulations and has adhered thereto”.
“Carnilinx has not been operating since the lockdown was enforced on all South Africans and all non-essential businesses, and remains compliant”.
On Monday, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) issued court papers challenging government on the ban. British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) has also threatened legal proceedings.
FITA says that it is committed to “establishing the rationale behind the cigarette ban”.
Government is in for a bumpy ride over the next few weeks.
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