South Africa is now the only country in the world with a cigarette sale ban still in place after Botswana lifted its ban on Thursday.
Botswana issued a gazette notice with regulations allowing sales, imports and exports of tobacco products. It nevertheless retained certain restrictions on smoking in public places.
The news comes as the hearing of BAT SA’s legal challenge against South Africa’s ban was postponed to August on Friday. The government’s lawyers apparently made an about turn on an agreement that the case should be heard on Tuesday, 30 June.
‘Substantial new matter’
In a letter from the State Attorney’s office, the government’s legal team said the applicants’ replying affidavits contained “substantial new matter including affidavits by two new experts.”
“We therefore no longer support a hearing on that date. We are grateful for your willingness to set this matter down for hearing by Full Court after 4 August, 2020, and given the urgency and importance of this matter, request that it be 5 and 6 August, 2020,” it said.
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe also reportedly issued a directive affirming the new dates.
BAT SA issued a statement soon afterwards criticising the postponement, terming it “inexplicable” and “worrying” because the case had been designated as urgent.
Its spokesperson Johnny Moloto said, “The shock news will … cost South Africa more than R1.4 billion and thousands of jobs, as justice is delayed by almost six weeks.
“All applicants, and the COGTA Minister on behalf of the government, had agreed the matter is urgent and needs to be resolved by the courts as soon as possible.
“This delaying of justice and a resolution of this issue is inexplicable. By the time the case is heard, the ban will have been in place for four and half months, during which time billions of illegal cigarettes will have been sold.”
BAT SA’s case is separate from another one filed by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), which is still awaiting judgement from the Pretoria high court. The case was heard on 10 June.
An online petition has been launched calling on the judges to hand down their ruling “immediately.” It had gained more than 645,000 signatures as at 13h00 on Friday.