Editor’s note July 2020

By MYRLE VANDERSTRAETEN, Published in Editor's Note

Looking back at the different roads people could have taken often makes for a salutary lesson, sometimes it brings with it a sense of relief that the decision taken brought such a positive outcome.

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What a different world we would have been living in had the Chinese authorities had the balls to 'fess up to the concerns they had with the then unknown virus that was taking hold in Wuhan.

The South African government took decisive steps at the onset of COVID-19. Some of those steps, often taken on the advice of experts, have been recognised as wise and necessary, others have been viewed with disbelief. Of these was the ban on alcohol and, probably none more so than, the ongoing ban on tobacco. The initial health concerns tied to a possible increase in complications should smokers get the virus was understandable. However, concerns about sharing cigarettes didn't make a great deal of sense in light of how many food stuffs are probably shared – a bite for you, a bite for me – not much different from a puff for me, a puff for you... And now there are some indications that smokers are less likely than non-smokers to fall ill with COVID-19 – Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris reported in May that "current smoking status appears to be a protective factor against the infection by SARS-CoV-2", "nicotine may be suggested as a potential preventive agent against COVID-19 infection", based on scientific literature and the hospital's own observations. The study did add, however, "Nicotine is a drug of abuse responsible for smoking addiction".

I am grateful I don't smoke. Given what one hears about the quality of cigarettes being bought with some desperation on the black market, the concern of those associated with the ban should have increased considerably – those smokers' coughs have got progressively worse. What is of concern to many South Africans is the revenue being lost to the country while enriching black marketeers. SARS recently released information that shows excise taxes between April 2019 and March 2020 amounted to R14.5 billion. This is approximately R40 million a day – a lot to lose – and those running the black market must be smiling.

Former SARS lawyer, Telita Snyckers, is the author of Dirty Tobacco; she commented during a radio interview that the cost of the ongoing ban of tobacco products is an estimated R1.6 billion a month which, over three months, could have provided 200 000 social grant payments and funded 66 000 police officers' salaries. She had other interesting revelations – I look forward to reading the book. She commented on the role played by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma: "The issue is the regulations that she has didn't empower her to include cigarettes in the lockdown regulations. When you look at the way that the government has dealt with this case, it isn't about tobacco any more, it is about government overreach, and it is about government acting in good faith and about (it) being able to back up its policy decisions with sound science".

We have many informative and really 'good reads' in this July issue of without prejudice, among them two very interesting articles on the Myeni case. The arrogance of SAA's former chairperson, Dudu Myeni, is incredible. Even more incredible is that she was able to get away with destroying SAA; and one could be forgiven for thinking it was a one-'man' Board.

Now we are told that the draft business rescue plan involves approximately R4.6 billion in new bailouts. So much for government announcing it would not provide further bailouts. The Department of Public Enterprises confirmed that government had received the draft plan: "No decisions have been taken on some of the proposals it contains. We will review the plan, explore various funding options and communicate our decisions." Taxpayers have 'no money, honey'.

And, to make us all feel a little happier, read Steven Mushet's article on how digging for the right solution can make the world a better place. It can also encourage us all to go that extra mile – it really is worth it.