If you're smoking in your car, be prepared to prove where and when you got them: Cele

Police minister Bheki Cele said organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown, especially the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
Police minister Bheki Cele said organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown, especially the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
Image: GCIS

Smokers caught with cigarettes outside their homes will be forced to produce till slips.

That’s according to police minister Bheki Cele, who on Friday was addressing a press conference on crime during lockdown.

Cele was responding to a question from a journalist about what would happen to people caught with cigarettes during lockdown.  He was also asked about the rationale behind people being arrested for transporting alcohol in their vehicles.

He was asked: “A police spokesperson in KZN was quoted as saying that smoking cigarettes in your house is a crime. People have complained about officers confiscating their personal cigarettes during stop and search operations. The regulations say that the sale of tobacco and related products is prohibited. Does that mean that possession of personal cigarettes is a crime?”

In response, Cele said: “Alcohol is very clear, you go and read your regulations. Regulations say there shall be no transportation of alcohol ... Whether it’s in your basket, whether it’s in your pocket, so long as you create some form of transport, you shall not be allowed,” said Cele.

Police minister Bheki Cele updated South Africans on the state of law enforcement so far during the lockdown on May 22 2020. Cele said organised crime syndicates have used the lockdown to expand their illegal trade with R2.67m in “contraband” items confiscated on SA's borders since the beginning of the lockdown.

He said consumption was allowed at home.

“It is not illegal to smoke cigarettes in your house. The only problem is when we find it in a car and you fail to show us where you did you get the cigarette ... and when.

“If you say you have bought the cigarette, here is the receipt, we’ve got two options there: to get you, and go and get the person who sold the cigarette to you. But if the cigarette was there in your thousand looses and you’re smoking in your home, really, we’re not coming into your house and arrest you,” said Cele.

Earlier in the 75-minute briefing he was asked about the lifting of the ban on sales. Cele would not be drawn.

This comes after media reports that co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma motivated for a continued ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes under level three lockdown during a meeting of the national coronavirus command council this week.

Cele said that the controversial ban had been “discussed time and again”.

I’m sure the announcement will be made. But Cele does not make announcements on those matters; the president [Cyril Ramaphosa] or the minister responsible for the regulations [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma] will. Just wait.

“Ours, as the police, is to enforce what would have been decided upon [about] cigarettes and alcohol. I might suspect what direction that decision might take, but it is not for me to make those announcements,” he said.

In the same press conference, Cele said organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown to expand the illegal trade in illicit and counterfeit alcohol and cigarettes.

His admission about the increase in these crimes appears to give credence to critics of the government’s strict ban of both products. Critics have constantly argued that the ban would open space for contraband.

“We know criminals are opportunistic, so organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown, especially the ban on alcohol and cigarettes. They have expanded their trade in illicit and counterfeit alcohol and cigarettes,” said Cele.

Cele said about R2.67m in “contraband” items had been confiscated on SA's borders.

He said they have also observed an increase in smuggling contraband liquor and tobacco products between SA's land borders with Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as the sale of these products on the black market.

“Our lockdown partners, the SANDF, have disrupted some of these operations, mainly along SA borders with Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Eswatini,” said Cele.

He said they had confiscated contraband, including alcohol and cigarettes, worth about R1.07m in March and R1.6m in April.

His admission also comes after research showed the ban on cigarette sales did not necessarily stop access to the products.

The minister revealed that 230,000 people had been charged for contravention of the lockdown regulations, including “liquor-related offences and cigarette-related offences, illegal gatherings, failure to confine to place of residence, cross-border and interprovincial movement, business-related and transport-related offences and fraudulent or no permits”.

The provinces with the most arrests for contravention of the lockdown regulations “almost mirror the provincial infection rates, with Western Cape in the lead, followed by Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng”, said Cele.


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