South Africa: Pretoria Protest Against Tobacco Ban Fizzles Out Before It Is Even Lit

Inside the Constitutional Court (file photo)

The protest against the tobacco ban at the Union Buildings in Pretoria fizzled out before it was even lit, as the police threatened to arrest the handful of would-be protesters for contravening the lockdown regulations if they did not disperse.

On Tuesday afternoon, around a dozen people arrived at the entrance of the Union Building lawns.

Before anyone was able form a group or lift a placard, police officers snuffed out the protest, asking them to immediately leave the area.

The police cited Level 3 lockdown regulations and prohibition of all gatherings, which excludes funerals and religious gatherings of less than 50 people.

The protest was organised by a group calling itself Unite Against the Tobacco Ban who, via Facebook, set up protests at the Union Buildings as well as outside Parliament in Cape Town.

The protesters have demanded that the ban on the sale of tobacco products be lifted with immediate effect.

Since the lockdown was enforced on 27 March, the government has prohibited the sale of tobacco products, which was extended during the Level 4 lockdown and extended again for Level 3.

One of the protesters, Wouter Mathlener who was present at the Union Buildings before being chased away, said he believed the government was infringing on the personal liberty and sovereignty of individuals, which transcended the issue of it just being about the prohibition.


"I don't think it's about cigarettes anymore," he said.

"I don't think anyone has the right to tell me what I can and cannot put in my body and I don't think the reasons provided by [Cogta] Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her cronies are reasonable and sufficient or rational.I think that the ban on cigarettes can do much more harm. They haven't considered the effect on people's mental health.Wouter Mathlener, protester

"Anyone who knows anything about the psychology of addiction knows that you do not quit during stressful and uncertain times and it is definitely way worse when you get forced to quit," Mathlener added.

As he was speaking to journalists, a police officer from Public Order Policing intervened and ordered him to leave. The police officer said he would be arrested, fined and given a criminal record if he refused to adhere to the order.

"I'm pretty sure it's our constitutional right to assemble. I was once wrongfully arrested, and it wasn't fun, and I don't want to repeat that. But if they push me, I will take the arrest," Mathlener said shortly before he climbed into his car and drove off.

Brendan Marshall, another protester, said the police were violating human rights and not sticking to the current legislation.

"Unfortunately, it is lockdown, but the laws didn't change," he added.

"I think it's my right to be here and I have the right to speak up and they are violating my human rights. I want cigarettes back. I am still smoking and finding them, but they are quite expensive. It is the cigarettes that don't pay tax."

Marshall also left shortly after being interviewed, saying he did not want a criminal record.

Source: News24

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