Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has denied being friends with controversial businessman Adriano Mazzotti.
Dlamini-Zuma was answering a question from Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Cathlene Labuschagne during a briefing with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday.
Labuschagne said the cigarette sales ban has only meant that the cigarette trade “has been taken underground.” Mazzotti reportedly confessed to smuggling tobacco in an affidavit he signed in 2014.
‘I am not Mazzotti’s friend’
Labuschagne asked, “The Minister is known to have visited Greece and the UK with Mr Mazzotti, who now denies that they are friends. Where will the two unfriendly travel partners be going with your profits once the lockdown is completely lifted, Minister?”
The MP was referring to pictures of Dlamini-Zuma and Mazzotti that surfaced in November 2017, a month before the African National Congress (ANC) held its 54th national conference. Dlamini-Zuma was running for ANC President.
However, Dlamini-Zuma replied, “I must also put it on record – I am not Mazzotti’s friend. And secondly, if someone is doing crime in South Africa, they must be arrested.
“Whatever crime, whether they are on cigarettes [or not], those people who are doing crime, they must be arrested.”
The Minister similarly denied links with Mazzotti in 2017. Her spokesperson at the time, Vukani Mthintso, said she had no “direct or substantive” relationship with the businessman and his associates.
“She has never approached him for any assistance, nor has he approached her and offered assistance with her campaign. The two occasions she met him were chance meetings, where there were other persons at the same event,” Mthintso said.
Earlier this month, Mazzotti also denied links with the Minister in a public statement. “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,” he said.
Dlamini-Zuma has been at the centre of the controversy surrounding the government’s ban on the sale of tobacco products. A News24 report last week claimed she strongly pushed for a continuation of the ban during a meeting of the National Command Council (NCC).
During her briefing with NCOP on Tuesday, the Minister said the ban is based on medical studies from from China, the United States and Oxford University.
She explained, “People who smoke do have problems with lungs, as we know, [and] if they do get the infection, they are more likely than the non-smokers to get a more serious disease.”
The government is facing a legal challenge from the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) seeking to reverse the ban. Mazzotti’s Carnilinx company is part of FITA.