News analysis

Chocolate in Fridge
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  • You may or may not be able to buy batteries and lightbulbs during South Africa's Covid-19 lockdown, and toys for recalcitrant children are probably out.
  • Alcohol will definitely not be on sale, and cigarettes will probably not be for sale.
  • But you can definitely buy chocolate, legal experts say. Also chips, fizzy drinks, and any other kind of junk food you can find on the shelves of a supermarket or spaza shop.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

For 21 days, starting on Friday, you may or may not be able to buy batteries for essential household electronics, and you will probably not be able to placate a difficult child with a new toy.

Lightbulbs and DIY supplies will probably not be available, and as of Thursday morning it seemed that selling cigarettes would be illegal.

But you'll definitely be able to buy chocolate, and any other sugary snack. Chips will be for sale, as will fizzy drinks, ice cream, biltong, cake, biscuits, and anything else made for eating.

On Wednesday the government published a poorly-drafted list of what may be sold, at supermarkets and properly licensed spaza shops, during South Africa's Covid-19 lockdown. It includes a few broad categories, such as "basic goods" (which definitely include airtime) and "household cleaning products".

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

The list also includes a small number of specific items, such as toilet paper and soap.

Selling anything not under one of those broad categories, or specifically listed, will be illegal. And such goods may be subject to seizure at road blocks – while the government will, in terms of the regulations, not be liable for any damages caused by police or soldiers, as long as they are acting in good faith.

Legal experts Business Insider South Africa consulted roughly agreed on some of what will count as "basic goods": anything directly needed for childcare, the consensus had it, would qualify, including nappies. But crayons may not, no matter how badly needed to keep shut-in children occupied.

There was a marked disagreement on whether batteries would count, and for what uses they may be included; a battery-operated shaver could be essential for a doctor who needs to wear a tight face mask for long hours, one lawyer pointed out.

But on one thing there was near-universal agreement; chocolate is okay, thanks to a very clear formulation that includes "any food product, including non-alcoholic beverages" – with no qualifier that the food must be essential, or healthy.

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