Johann Rupert disputes Dlamini-Zuma’s 2017 lawsuit claim as ‘fake news’

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Billionaire businessman Johann Rupert has dismissed Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s claim that he lost a lawsuit against her.

Dlamini-Zuma made the claim in November 2017 when she was campaigning for the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC). She eventually lost to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In a tweet at the time, she wrote, “When I banned smoking in public spaces and advertising, I had discussions with investors including Johann Rupert. We didn’t agree; he took me to court. We won the case.”

‘Not involved in any lawsuit’

Dlamini-Zuma was referring to the period between 1994 and 1999 when she was Health Minister. She spearheaded the legislation that prohibits smoking in public spaces as well as advertising of tobacco products.

However, in a tweet on Monday, Rupert said he has never been involved in any lawsuit anywhere, including against Dlamini-Zuma.

The billionaire was reacting to an article published on The South African which claimed that he and the Minister were headed for a court battle over the extension of the ban on cigarette sales.

He wrote, “More fake news: Despite 2017 tweet by @DlaminiZuma when she was running against @CyrilRamaphosa, and the fake news today, I have never been involved in ANY lawsuit anywhere, including her.”

BAT SA’s ultimatum

Some supporters of Dlamini-Zuma unearthed the tweet following her announcement last week that the ban on cigarette sales would remain. They argued that this was her second “victory” against Rupert, who has often been touted as a member of “white monopoly capital.”

The South African subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT) gave Dlamini-Zuma until 10h00 on Monday to clarify the legal basis for the ban or face court action.

Rupert’s Reinet Investments held 2.85 percent of BAT’s issued share capital as at December 2019, according to its management statement published in January.

The value of this investment in BAT stood at €2.5 billion as at 31 December, representing 45.8 percent of Reinet’s net asset value. Rupert’s Remgro also held BAT shares previously, but unbundled them in 2008 at a total value of R55.2 billion.

It was not yet clear at the time of publishing whether Dlamini-Zuma had responded to BAT SA’s ultimatum or not. However, it may not be the only legal challenge she could face.

Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) has also filed court papers against the government in a bid to have the ban lifted. It cited both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma as respondents.

FITA argued that the ban under level 5 of the lockdown was “unlawful” because it was not gazetted then and that the government has not considered less “onerous” measures of achieving the lockdown’s purpose without undermining business rights.

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