R140 for a packet of cigarettes in Soweto

Spaza shop owner says ban on alcohol and tobacco has cost him R25,000

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Photo of cigarette packets

Cigarettes are traded despite the Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Legal traders have lost significant income because of the restrictions. Photo: Mosa Damane

“I think the government is violating the rights of smokers by banning cigarettes. It is my money and health and I have a right to decide when to quit,” says Veli Hlongwane from Maliwa street, Mzimhlophe in Soweto.

“I do adhere to the rules of Covid-19 lockdown … If a friend asks for a smoke I give because it is their risk not mine, but I don’t ask for a skyf anymore, ” he says.

“The price of a Savannah fag jumped from R1.50 to R4.00 and the cheapest RG fag jumped from 50 cents to R3.50 … I smoke three Savannah fags per day, which is R12 a day. The government should reconsider the ban of cigarettes,” says Hlongwane.

Sandile Mtshali from Meadowlands zone 11 is a young spaza shop owner with a liquor license. He says he has lost R25,000 in profits due to the ban of cigarettes and alcohol, and he has not received any assistance from the government financially.

“I continued trading until I was arrested by police for selling fags and beer during the lockdown. I’ve learned my lesson and I won’t be on the wrong side of the law again,” says Mtshali.

Golan Mohammed, an immigrant from Bangladesh who rents a shop in Meadowlands, said he has lost about R20,000 in profits due to the cigarette ban. “The government should give us the money they promised to us, because we are struggling and trading times have also been shortened.”

“Go big or go home is the new slogan for the booming business of selling cigarettes in the townships,” says Sam Sitoe, wearing a home made mask and selling fruit and vegetables in Meadowlands. “Better a friend with a fag than a friend with a Lamborghini.”

Sibusiso (surname withheld) has become a trusted dealer of illicit cigarettes in Mzimhlophe, where he has on display packs of Caesar Gold, Life Virginia King Size, RG blue and imported tobacco.

“This is my way of surviving and making clean money without getting into trouble with the police, but the new laws of banning cigarettes are taking away my bread. At night I sell RG loose for R5 and during the day the normal price is R3.50. A pack of 20 is R50 which is the cheapest RG fongkong (fake) cigarettes. Courtleigh is the most expensive pack which is around R140 in some places and a loose cigarette is R7 each,” says Sibusiso.

“All fake cigarettes are very expensive now. Forum, Peter Gold, Malimbo, F1, Rainbow Gold and Remington are selling for R50 where I stock cigarettes next to Bara hospital. I need to get more from my supplier because people are buying in bulk,” he says.

TOPICS:  Covid-19 Economy

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

These prices are ridiculous and are making the ordinary person turn to rolling their own cigarettes. The ban on cigarettes sales has forced people to go to these lengths.

As much as the government think they are doing us a favour, they are forcing us to smoke things that are being licked, and at these prices, we are also forced to share cigarettes. I don't understand how they thought they'd be able to get the whole of South Africa to stop smoking.

We are in all other ways abiding by the rules of the lockdown, but this ban is ridiculous. South African will be a lot happier if they are able to buy cigarettes legally and at a reasonable price.

Dear Editor

The Auditor-General should appoint a National Task Team to intake, audit and monitor all the millions of rands worth of cigarettes, liquor and other goods of value, confiscated during lockdown.

When the time is appropriate these could be auctioned off and the proceeds disbursed amongst the children who have lost their breadwinners to Covid-19. This should not be managed by political entities, but rather by professionals who will ensure it is done fairly.

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