If you smoke, prepare to argue cigarettes are a basic good – or go without during lockdown

Business Insider SA

News analysis

  • South Africa's official lockdown regulations says grocery stores may only sell goods on a list of what is deemed essential.
  • That list includes all kinds of food, and a broad category for household cleaners.
  • But the regulations are so poorly drafted that it may be literally illegal – with the threat of jail time – to sell you cigarettes.
  • Also not on the list are nappies and toothpaste, though those may (or may not) be covered by a "basic goods" clause.
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Unless regulations published on Wednesday change before then, it will be illegal to sell cigarettes in South Africa for three weeks starting on Friday.

And grocery store managers afraid of jail may even need convincing that nappies and toothpaste fall under the definition of "basic goods" that you can't go without.

The regulations can be changed at any time, by simple publication in the Government Gazette. But at briefings on Wednesday ministers made it clear that they sought the maximum level of restriction during South Africa's Covid-19 shutdown, and wanted to create a list of things allowed, rather than restricting only certain items and activities.

See also: Sale, transport of alcohol banned. ‘For 21 days, please stay sober.’

The government also envisages a system of roadblocks and checks, with police supported by the army, to check those moving about for signs of Covid-19, as well as to enforce the regulations.

That suggests that, once you convince a store manager that your unlisted nappies are indeed essential, you may still have to convince soldiers of the same on your way home.

The list of five categories of goods that may be sold include one catch-all class: "basic goods". But that entry specifies that it includes "airtime and electricity", which implies it is not for what those patrolling the streets may consider luxuries.

There are three other broad groups of goods allowed: 

  • "any food product", and any "ancillary products used in the production" of food
  • "household cleaning products" and "personal protective equipment"
  • medical and hospital supplies.

The specific goods that are definitely allowed are:

  • animal food
  • toilet paper, sanitary pads, tampons, and condoms
  • hand sanitiser, disinfectants, soap, and alcohol – "for industrial use"
  • fuel, "including coal and gas".

Draconian measures may be imposed in terms of the state of national disaster declared in South Africa – but are not necessarily constitutional.

This week Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told judges that courts must remain open, even if SA were to enter a state of emergency, in case citizens wish to challenge the restrictions imposed on them.

See also: SA courts must stay open – for challenges to lockdown rules, says Chief Justice

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